No one warned me. Nor had I seen any other footage of Miami Seaquarium. I had only seen footage of Lolita the killer whale in one of the smallest captive killer whale tanks in the world. I wasnt prepared that when I visited Miami Seaquarium that I would be stepping back to the 1950’s.
It starts off pretty enough. Visitors drive over a beautiful bridge into Biscayne Bay – surrounded by water. The irony is not lost on me. The beauty ends as soon as you get to the park gates. Visitors are greeted with this welcoming sign.
As you can see it states that any photos/footage you make isnt allowed for public display: you must get written permission beforehand. Why is that? What do they have to hide? I have seen youtube videos of the dolphin and killer whale shows filmed by ordinary people who visited Miami Seaquarium. Did each and everyone of them get written permission beforehand? Is this just a scare tactic that Miami Seaquarium are using on its paying customers? I am sure that I didnt see any signs like this at SeaWorld. It all seems very suspicious to me.
As soon as I take five paces into the park it becomes all too apparent why there are no filming signs for public display at the front gate: A depression descends on me quick time. It appears as if the park has been left untouched in its original state since when it opened in 1955. The floor has cracks in it and is uneven, the buildings look something out of a bygone era, the public areas look like a concrete jungle with trees on either side – maybe the owners are hoping that the trees will disguise the fact that this marine park looks the same as when Ric o Barry trained captives back in the 1960s.
I am here to see Lolita. She is a magnificent killer whale who was captured in 1970 off of Puget Sound and has lived in what could be possibly one of the smallest ‘whale bowls’ since then. She is in a tank which measures 60-foot by 80-foot by 20 feet deep. She has many, many good people working for her to get her to a seapen so she will have more space, learn to hunt again and possibly be reunited with her family.
I have a couple of hours to kill before she is due to perform her twice daily show so I head to the ‘Top Deck Dolphin’ show. This is one of two dolphin shows at the Miami Seaquarium.
I regret coming here immediately: as I enter I feel like I have been transported back in time. The downstairs area is dark and dingy. The interior doesnt look as if it has seen a lick of paint since it opened. I am in a state of shock and get my cellphone out to film. I film myself walking up the stairs – the stairs are filthy and worn out with black patches on them. There is a door on the stairs which is meant to be white but parts of it look black and is covered in dust. Not for the first time I think how has Miami Seaquarium been allowed to get away with this? Why are we not more outraged at this? We should be.
According to the article below $20 million dollars was spent on renovating the park between 2000-2013 – somehow I am not seeing it. Maybe they just spent all that money painting and decorating the CEO’S offices and forgot to make the tanks bigger or at least give them a clean once in a while?
I arrive at the top of the stairs and see around six dolphins in a very small barren circular tank which is 20 feet deep. Ugh. They are swimming around in circles – I sense that they are hungry and just want the show to start so they can get fed some dead fish in exchange for performing circus tricks.
There are no seats for the audience. Just standing around the side of the tank – this has some sort of circus/carnival feel. I imagine a voice over a loud speaker booming: ‘Step right up so we can see these magnificent dolphins do some amazing tricks. 25 Cents to take a look.’
There is a mock up of a boat on the left hand side with young trainers at the bow. They cannot be any older than 20 years of age. They stand there with the dead fish in their hands. Just before the show starts the dolphins almost stand up under the bow begging for fish. Once you understand captivity then you can see how wrong this is. Am I the only one who realises this? I am not the most intelligent person in the world and this is so obvious at what is going on here yet no one appears to be outraged or upset about this.
I have got really sensitive ears and the music is booming through the speakers. I say on camera that I would like to smash the speakers with a hammer into a million pieces. How must the captives feel?
I spot just inside the tank orange patches = rust. Are they kidding me? And still no one comments on this. I carry on filming for a while then stop whilst I wait for the show to start. I havent seen a dolphin show in years and certainly not one since I got educated about whale/dolphin captivity. I am dreading it as I know what is coming: Dolphins being made to do cheap tricks like circus monkeys in order to be fed. Day in and day out.
The show starts and I start filming again. At one point a dolphin stands on its tail and appears to be ‘walking’ through the water. Ugh. What am I witnessing here? This is okay with everyone? I find it obscene. Have we not progressed since we kept elephants, tigers and lions in cages when they were not performing in circus shows? It appears we havent progressed with getting educated with animal welfare. Not one jot.
7 minutes and 30 seconds into the show (see footage below) I get splashed by a dolphin. I get soaked. I move to the back of the standing area. I feel slightly sick as I can taste the chlorine in my mouth for a couple of hours afterwards.
The young trainer announces that one of the captives has just had a baby and that they could tell how the baby was doing by performing an ultrasound on the dolphin. I bet the dolphin loved that – Do they have ultrasound scans in the wild? Plus she says that the pregnant dolphin had someone with her 24/7 – Miami Seaquarium are all heart. Never mind the rust, the chlorine in the pool and the tiny space – the dolphin had an ultrasound and humans with her 24/7 so that is all good.
She speaks in a monotone voice and seems to be reading from a script.She has learnt her lines well. Her voice drones on and on. She tells parkgoers can name the baby online. On camera I suggest the name ‘Free Me.’
After the show and several attempts to rinse chlorine from my mouth I go and find a worker who is keeping an eye on the dolphins from the bow of the ship.
I keep my camera and phone in my bag.I dont want to raise suspicions. I call her over and ask her some questions. I first ask if Miami Seaquarium has been sold yet. She looks at me as if I have two heads. In fact a few days after this it is confirmed that Palace Entertainment Holdings have bought the marine park.
I ask about the rust on the tank – she says it is just salt water marks. I say that I got splashed by a dolphin and I could taste chlorine. She tells me that there is less chlorine in the tank that what there is in tap water. I have tasted American tap water and it does not taste of chlorine. So I think that she has been sold a lie by her bosses.
She starts to look at me up and down – maybe she wants to make sure that I am not filming. I think that she has realised what I am about but I ask a few more questions. I ask whether the captive dolphins sonar can bounce off the tank walls and upset the dolphins. She tells me that dolphins dont use their sonar all the time and it doesnt bounce off the tank walls. She only has to do a search on Google at how captive dolphins suffer with their sonar bouncing off the inside of the tanks. It is equivalent of humans living in a room full of mirrors and never being able to escape.
I dont think this young girl is intentionally telling me misinformation – she just seems so young and naive.
There is only one good thing that I learn talking to her – I ask the same question I asked at SeaWorld ‘Can the dolphins get live fish?’. She says yes and the sea lions get live fish from time to time too.
This pleases me – it gives the captives some stimulation as nature intended. I tell her that when I asked SeaWorld that question they told me it was ‘unethical to the fish.’ The look she gives me is priceless! I thank her and leave.
I am learning that these marine parks have their own set of protocols when it comes to keeping animals in captivity and they make up their own rules as they go along.
I am on my way to see the sea lions and have no idea that what I will see will upset me so much.