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A Short Piece on a Small Space

Today’s exploration of dolphinariums along the Caribbean coast of Mexico has taken me to the Bahia Principe Hotel, along the 307 highway. This highway runs the length of the coast; the beaches and resorts are on the east side, the towns are generally along the west side, or inland side.

The Bahia Principia housing development on the inland side has what has to be the area’s largest entrance wall. It’s nearly impossible to get it all in one photo.

Naturally, you expect everything having to do with this resort to be big.

Across the highway on the ocean side is where you go to find the Bahia Principe Hotel. The gate across the driveway here is also oversized and imposing, but when I asked about the dolphins, the gate man invited me in with directions on where to go.

So I drive and I drive along carefully landscaped winding roads. The topos (or speed bumps) have a fresh coat of paint. Everything here is top notch. I go around to the left of a roundabout and the road gets narrower. Further on past a stop sign it gets smaller still, and then turns sandy. This little road is the access to Bahia Principe’s beach front? Apparently it is.

The parking “lot” is a line of cars in the sand, along a fence. Everything is fenced off, so it is a bit confusing – you have to backtrack to get to a little gateway through which you access the beach. A beach covered in many many palapas and beach chairs, and happy vacationers.

There are a few dive boats, and, of course, a bar.

Following directions, I head to my left to find the dolphin accommodations. It’s Bahia Principe, they have the biggest everything. I seriously expect a world-class dolphin resort as I walk up to a small palapa with benches under it.

There’s a crowd lined up along the bushes in front of the palapa. I make my way around to the side and peer over. I see a swimming pool with a lot of people wearing life-vests. Life vests in a swimming pool.

Then, of course, I see the dolphins. There are dolphins in the swimming pool. It is a really strange sight. The water is crystal clear, the sides and bottom are smooth and white. I look to my left, I look to my right; I look again. It’s a swimming pool.

At this point, in shock, I count. On each side there is a family on vacation; this family has two dolphins, the next one has two dolphins, the last one has one dolphin. Five dolphins. In here

Look at that picture. Do you know what you can see in the background? Do you know what that is? That is the ocean, folks. As far as your eyes can see, nothing but water.

I think, no, they can’t be serious. I move from one side to the other. There’s no way out and nothing beyond it, no tunnel or channel or gateway or canal. No sanctuary, no shelter, no rocks or trees or anything! It is nothing but a damn swimming pool!

That crystal clear water indicates another problem beyond space – chlorine! Dolphins soaking in chlorine; it injures their eyes and mucous membranes. With the amount of people in the pool, I shudder to think how much chlorine they must use!

And there’s not a bit of shade for the dolphins, who get sunburned just as we do. In the wild they spend the majority of their time under the surface. In this shallow pool, that isn’t an option. From tail to snout the dolphins could hardly stay submerged if upright in this tank. There’s a worker, and I have to ask: Is there any other place here with dolphins? This isn’t… isn’t… it?

Yes, she says, it is all right here. Smile.

What do you think those dolphins DO when everyone leaves and they lock the gate? What do they DO???

In the wild, dolphins can swim up to 16 hours a day, up to 128 km. A bit of math tells us that each dolphin would have to swim about 3,840 laps a day to make use of their swimming skills in that tank.

They can’t communicate, even with each other. In a tank that size, their calls just bounce off the sides, like living in a tin can. They don’t have to use sonar for hunting; their skills are never used when all they are given is medicated dead fish. Without being able to talk to one another, it must be like living in solitary confinement.

Dolphins: supremely intelligent, playful, curious, humorous; known to solve puzzles, understand human communication, risk their own lives to help others… think of all the reasons why you love dolphins, and then think of putting five of those beings in a swimming pool – for years and years and years.

Not a rock or a twig to contemplate.

Getting poked and prodded and ridden around like a plastic horse at the grocery store every single day.

Cycling between 100% stimulation and 100% absence. On, off, on, off, on, off. In that stupid, disgusting excuse for an environment. If that is not cruelty, I don’t know what is.

Where do you think they belong?


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