The Indonesian government is ignoring calls to honor an agreement it made in Oct. 2010, to turn over dolphins from the last operating dolphin traveling circus in its country, to an established rehabilitation network. What's going on?
Just when you think you've heard and seen it all, a new low comes along that blows the mind. When you think of a circus, what animals immediately spring to mind? Dolphins perhaps? These dolphins are not just part of a circus, these mammals take to the road as performers in a traveling circus. Hauled from town to town under appalling conditions, they jump through hoops of fire for a paying public.
Such is the life of the Indonesian traveling circus dolphins, owned by a company called Wersut Seguni Indonesia (WSI). The company's operations first came under scrutiny in 2009, after public complaints arose about some of the dolphins dying during performances.
Upon further investigation by local conservationists, these dolphins were discovered to have been captured from a national marine park located in the Java sea. Fishermen captured and sold them on demand, to WSI. The travel show possessed 26 dolphins in total, yet remarkably, held only six legal permits for the mammals from the Ministry of Fisheries.
WSI's rebuttal was that they had "rescued" these dolphins. A claim that allowed the company to bypass government regulations and receive temporary permits for them, at least until the mammals could be rehabilitated and returned to the ocean. The problem is, they have yet to get there.
The WSI-owned dolphins, were part of a larger group of 70+ dolphins, that Indonesia's Forestry Department had agreed to turn over (in Oct. 2010), to the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) and the US-based, Earth Island Institute. Currently meant to be undergoing rehabilitation, the dolphins have yet to be released, despite the signing of an agreement, or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), between conservation groups and the government.
The MOU involved a five-year plan to rehabilitate and reintroduce more than 70 captive dolphins back to the ocean, and with the aid of the Earth Island Institute and support from Ric O'Barry's, Dolphin Project and Save Japan Dolphins, the largest sea pen in the world was built to receive them, at Karimun Jawa Island. JAAN was meant to begin receiving the dolphins in March 2011. Yet some 16 months later, the $50,000 ocean enclosure, remains empty.
What has occurred during these sixteen months is a back and forth battle between dolphin advocates and the Indonesian government. According to activist Ric O'Barry, their efforts to free these dolphins have been continuously stymied at every turn. The captive dolphin industry in Indonesia he said, yields a high influence over its government.
Given the current set of circumstances, one can only assume an ulterior motive benefiting the Indonesian government, is in play. By June 2011, not only was the Ministry of Fisheries ignoring the MOU, they had determined to release just three of the 70+ dolphins – directly back to the ocean.
Without assisted rehabilitation, these dolphins would die. Having been trained to eat dead fish, they would now have to relearn the art of catching live fish. Furthermore, dolphins in captivity often disable their natural sonar capabilities because the reverberations from it can bounce off the walls, and drive them insane. In the wild, dolphins need this sonar for navigation and survival.
The Indonesian government was quick to defend its remarkably slow response. The Jakarta Globe, said the ministry announced it was not breaching the agreement. According to Bambang Novianto, the ministry’s biodiversity director:
"We certainly hope that the program will go on as planned, but we are still assessing things, such as the technical preparation on the field."
This was in June of last year. By September, despite more meetings with the government, JAAN co-founder Femke Den Haas reported, "the dolphins remain confined to their small tanks in the traveling circus and the so-called conservation agencies." Almost five months on, the dolphins are still awaiting release.
Dolphins in Indonesia are protected under the 1999 government regulations on plant and animal preservation. The majority of captive dolphins in Indonesia are bottlenose dolphins, classified under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Yet they remain at threat from appalling circus conditions and even poachers, who kill and chop them up for use as fish bait.
But how does one go about transporting dolphins in a traveling circus? According to JAAN, the dolphins are netted, placed into tiny tanks with small amounts of water, then transported via truck to the site of the show. The video above, released by JAAN and The Black Fish Organization, shows what these dolphins are forced to endure on a daily basis.
Barbara Napoles, a dolphin activist and supporter of efforts by JAAN, Ric O'Barry and Earth Island Institute to get the dolphins released, recently launched an online petition at Change.org, which will be sent to the Indonesian Embassy in Washington DC. It asks the Indonesian government to simply honor the Memorandum of Understanding signed 16 months ago, and release the dolphins as agreed.
Napoles told Digital Journal, "dolphins belong in the sea wild and free, they should not be in a truck and especially not in a traveling circus."
Ric O'Barry explained during an initial call-to-action, "the government has not issued the promised permits to JAAN and Earth Island's Dolphin Project for these illegal dolphins, despite a previous agreement to turn over these abused animals." That the government still refuses to honor the agreement, continues to raise concerns and indeed, red flags.
In light of recent scientist and expert testimony which concluded that dolphins and whales possess a self-awareness similar to our own, and should therefore be seen as non-human persons, what these dolphins endure in this traveling circus, must be tantamount to an archaic concentration camp.
It's time for the Indonesian government to release these dolphins, as promised, nearly sixteen months ago. It isn't going to cost you one dime to turn over these mammals. Or is it?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com