09 January, 2008

Dolphin Risk

Government to Approve Dolphinarium at Blowing Point on Thursday. We would all have heard by now that the Ministers have agreed to give the “swim with the dolphins” company a licence or lease of part of the proposed national park at Blowing Point for as their new facility. Its approval by ExCo on Thursday is expected to be a mere formality.

In the past, concerns have been expressed over a number of issues. These have included on the “pro” side such matters as the need to provide visitors to Anguilla with more amusements, and the need to keep those Anguillians employed by the old facility at Meads Bay in their jobs. On the “con” side we have read of concerns about the pollution problem and its consequences, including damage to reefs and other marine life, risk of infection to humans, and the impact of fuel and oil from the Blowing Point harbour on the health of the dolphins.

Silently lying in the background has been the unspoken issue of the impact of this type of circus activity on the values of the multi-million dollar homes built in recent years along that coast.

Now, comes word of another factor that should be thrown into the equation. Are the visitors and participants safe when swimming with the dolphins? Are these really tame animals that love to hug and to be hugged? Marine Connection is a UK charity dedicated to protecting dolphins and whales worldwide. Reading through its web-pages, I came across a story about a recent incident in Curacao. A captive dolphin apparently deliberately dropped itself on three volunteer participants in a game. The dolphin was supposed to jump over a stick they were holding. Instead, it landed on three of them, seriously injuring one of them. If you are interested, you can read the story and look at footage of the incident [link here].

Dr Naomi Rose is a marine mammal scientist with Humane Society International [link here] . She has expressed interest in the dolphin activity in Anguilla. When approached, she provided an insight into the significance and meaning for us in Anguilla of this incident in Curacao. She writes:

"The Curacao incident is not as rare as the swim-with industry would have the public believe. Many people every year receive minor injuries from these animals, such as bites or bruises. The vast majority are never reported, mostly because the facilities behave as this one did (try to suppress the information) or because the people themselves believe they must have done something wrong to provoke the dolphin (and they are encouraged to think this by the facilities). More serious injuries, such as broken bones, lacerations requiring stitches, and so on, do occur but more rarely. Then there's this sort of thing: an unusual interaction - certainly rare, but nevertheless as significant a risk as, say, a plane crash - that could potential lead to permanent injury. I don't know the current condition of the woman in the middle of the three people who received that body blow, but she could easily have been paralyzed by what happened.

It was almost certainly not an accident either, no matter what the facility called it. Dolphins are very aware of their position in the water and when they "porpoise" or jump out of the water, even more so when they are in a confined, completely familiar space such as a tank. We must remember that the water is their element - we are the awkward, tentative, clumsy ones in it. Annie, the dolphin who did this, did it on purpose - I can say that with very high confidence, even without viewing the video clip but certainly after doing so! Why she did it is another question - she might have meant absolutely no harm by it, because to another dolphin, such a body slam wouldn't have caused any permanent damage, but could have made a point within the dolphin social hierarchy of this facility. She might have even been playing. But my guess is that she meant to make a dominance point. She was no doubt quite surprised when the people she hit didn't respond as dolphins would.

Captive swim-with encounters are at least as dangerous as some recreational sports, like skate-boarding. Generally speaking you don't get injured, but you might end up with bumps or cuts. When you do get injured, it could be serious. Some people might think that's a reasonable risk and so it may be - but the difference with swim-withs is 1) with its rhetoric, the industry misleads the public into thinking it's completely safe (just go to any facility's web site - there may be fine print somewhere about the risks of injury, but the big print is all about how lovely and gentle and happy dolphins are); and 2) the industry is not transparent when injuries do occur.

For what it's worth, some former customers who got injured by dolphins have filed lawsuits - I think most are settled out of court, precisely to keep the information confidential. The industry is *not* transparent - any authority permitting this activity needs to recognize that."

Members of the public are entitled to ask some questions about the proposed approval of the dolphin facility at Blowing Point. One is, do these people carry insurance against incidents such as this? How common are incidents such as this? Is there any liability on the part of government and the public purse if such an incident should occur at Blowing Point? Are our health and emergency agencies ready to deal with this sort of incident if and when it occurs?


  1. "Sheep could run Anguilla better."
    --Hubert Hughes

  2. Money money money money, MONEY!! The government of Anguilla has signed a deal with the devil. They need to get the Devil off the island! The government of Anguilla doesn't care about anybody's property value, the environment or the dolphins. It seems to me that Anguilla is "going to hell in a handbasket" with it's government's blessings.

  3. It is not that uncommon for tired captive dolphins to attack tourists coming in the water with them.

    See the story from the Bahamas on Nancy Glass

  4. The Government of Anguilla is meeting on Thursday to discuss the proposal for the dolphin pens to be moved into the sea at Sandy Point.

    Please write…even if you do not care about the dolphins…the Government should not be allowed to take away land earmarked for a national park. This decision will have an effect on generations of people.

    Please write…even if you do not care about dolphins…the government should not allow ANY business or person to privatize the sea.

    Please write…if you care about Anguilla.

    Please write…it could help preserve Anguilla for generations of Anguillians AND it only takes a moment…not much longer than posting something on this website.

    Address your letter to:

    Mr. Osbourne Fleming
    Chief Minister
    Government of Anguilla
    The Valley

    Email: chief-minister@gov.ai

  5. i wanted to build a home in anguilla......,but french st.martin is looking much better now . The story of the captive dolphins was the last straw. Wake up anguilla! Are the words "CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE" ringing any bells?

  6. It seems glaringly obvious, that Anguilla does not have the tourist traffic, specially in the summer months, to support the dolphinarium. Would someone informed on the finances of the project please write in to tell me where I am wrong. Detailed, reliable numbers rather than a general statement would be appreciated.

    Is it possible that its raison d'etre is something other than a normal business venture?


    I got it from a good source that the Ministers did not approve the relocation of the Dolphin Circus to Blowing Point last Thursday. They agreed to allow the owner to “mobilize”. They are giving more time for members of the public to make their view known. Final approval has been put back. No public announcement will be made. We still have time to save Sandy Point for us to use. What a shame if we allow this nastiness to go on at the best picnic spot in Anguilla. Let your representative know how you feel. Anguillians, wake up to what is happening to us.


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