As the bright orange sun slowly rose above the horizon, hundreds of fins burst out of the deep blue water. Surrounding our little boat and leaping through the waves, dusky dolphins and common dolphins paired up to deliver what was possibly one of the most incredible acrobatic performances I’d ever seen. For the next 2 hours, we found ourselves hypnotised as more and more dolphins seemed to appear, throwing themselves out of the water, in sync with each other.
Whilst I photographed the chaos, it made me think about the animals trapped in tanks being forced to perform for people and even forced to interact. Is there a place for it in this day and age and what is being done to end the suffering?
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In October this year, the popular travel website Trip Advisor announced a huge change to their policy regarding animal attractions. As of early 2017, they will no longer be selling tickets to places which allow and encourage visitors to come into contact with wild animals in captivity. This news comes following an 18-month campaign organised and led by the World Animal Protection group who wanted to not only point out the damaging effects of such attractions on wildlife but also to stop Trip Advisor from making a profit from them. Clearly this is a step forward. In a world where being able to get so close to tigers, elephants, dolphins and other amazing creatures is so often unregulated, something certainly needed to done. However, is this change likely to have a positive effect on the issue of tourism and animal welfare or could it simply be that they are using this stance purely to please?
There are many issues that arise when animals are forced into situations where tourists pay to touch, stroke and ride them. Dolphins, for example, are very often kept in small, cramped conditions and often suffer from psychological and physical conditions which severely impact their life. Many of them have been snatched from their families in the wild and now find themselves alone, in pain and unable to behave naturally. Imagine what it must be like minding your own business and then suddenly being grabbed, flung in a very confined space and then, whilst you are feeling lost and alone, being told that you have to put on a show. I know I couldn’t do it but these animals do not have the choice. They are highly intelligent creatures suffering for the sake of entertainment and it is not acceptable.
So how will the change to Trip Advisor make a difference?
It only takes a quick look at Trip Advisor and its 690,000 listed attractions to see the huge influence it has upon the travel industry. From museums and restaurants, hotels and hostels to exotic destinations, places that little bit closer to home and even flights, it seems to have everything you need to make decisions for your next trip. For me personally, I found it to be incredibly helpful when it came to planning my trip around New Zealand and even when trying to choose where to eat out where I live now. With this in mind, I have no doubt that by stopping selling tickets to these ‘wild animal experiences’ will at the very least make people more aware of the damaging effects of such places. Perhaps by making it a little bit more difficult to incorporate such experiences into their travel places, people will think twice.
Trip Advisor has also said that they will be launching an educational portal called “PAW”. Supported and developed by animal welfare groups, this will be linked to all the animal attractions listed on the site and will provide information surrounding certain experiences highlighting the various different issues. This, I’m sure, will also prove to be vital in terms of educating people about animal tourism and will hopefully have a significant effect.
There is, however, some concern that whilst this change in policy is likely to have an impact on smaller, unregulated companies in areas often reliant upon such tourism, the larger businesses like SeaWorld are unlikely to take much of a hit. For example, while you will no longer be able to use Trip Advisor to pay to interact with wild animals, there is nothing stopping you purchasing tickets to visit them in captivity. This means that for the whales and dolphins trapped in tiny tanks, they are and will be suffering for the foreseeable future. Of course anything is possible, though, and at a time when people are now more aware than ever of the negativity surrounding the release of ‘Blackfish’, it might not be long until captivity attractions find themselves heading in the same direction as wild animal contact experiences and bloodsports.
In a world where the internet plays a huge role in travel, I firmly believe that Trip Advisor’s decision to stop selling tickets to animal attractions will have a major impact on this aspect of the industry. Wherever you go in the world, you will very often find that many places proudly display a Trip Advisor sticker showing that they can be found on the site which, to me, illustrated just how important the reviews are to them. For that to be questioned or even taken away would have a significant impact not only on the company but on this people deciding to pay a visit.Yes, some can argue that such places encourage people to learn more about saving species but at the price of a life, I’m sure there are other effective ways. To argue that people need to be able to touch animals in order to want to save them just does not seem right. There are far better ways to do it.
Getting close to a dolphin in captivity is no comparison to getting close to one in the wild on their terms. They seem to exude strength, power and positivity. This is how we need to see them, trapped in tiny enclosures is not. For the tigers sedated so curious travellers can lie down and stroke them, for the elephants beaten with sticks as they are trained to carry people and for the many other suffering animals, Trip Advisor’s policy change is certainly a good start and something that I hope will continue.