Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pink Dolphins sleep with one eye open

That was a subtitle in a legit article I was reading online about the boto. I found it so intriguing, I knew it would keep.

I worked at Dolphin Quest Bermuda for 6 months in 2002. 3 months longer than I could stand. I love dolphins. I know thats cheesy in a giggly girly kind of way, but that's not how I mean it. I know more about them now, than I did back then, but even then I didn't think of them as magical creatures that heal humans and rescue them from drowning. GAAA, ok, maybe a bit. I had the whole Lassen art collection thing going on in my bedroom. (And I should have broken my engagement to my nightmare of husband (now ex, thank god) the second he made me take them all down and berated me for being a dumb animal lover.) So yes, I guess I did have an idealised view of the mammal. Then I met them. And it became true love.

love song

I signed on with DQB as an reservations clerk. I was star struck by the idea of working with this company. I wasn't the wanna-be activist I am now, but I did check up and their public face is very animal concern, education driven.

WRONG, dead wrong.

I went to Dockyard for a secondary interview, to be staged at the Keep, where the dolphins live. It was early, maybe around 7 in the morning and no one was around. As I walked towards the trainers' shed, I looked into the water. All of the dolphins, 9 at the time, I think, popped their heads up to take a look at me.... and I burst into tears. I later talked myself into believing that it was the sight of them so close and THERE that overwhelmed. It was because there were so many of them in that pool. No matter what the spin is, they did not have enough space.

I got the job though, and started out enjoying the people I work with, excepting a few but that's normal. As the season rolled up I started to see the company for what it is. A money grubbing exploitation enterprise. As the demand to swim with the animals grew, so did the number of 'encounters'. They scrambled to create new programs, longer hours, just to cram in as many clueless marks as they could each day. I asked mildly once about the animals, if spending all day every day with hoards of tourists was good for them. It was made pretty clear to me what my place was in this venture. I left soon after. Not on bad terms with them on the surface, but on the worst possible terms in my head and in my heart.
love you I do
The experience was value plus. I learned who dolphins are. Yes animals. Yes magical but not in a unicorn and rainbows way. I also saw first hand how a large international company pulls the wool over the eyes of it's consumers. A lot of people buy that 'angel dolphin' crap. A lot of people just want to see them up close (dolphins are far larger than you imagine). Some people, ahemdanakroydahem, want to ride them. These animals are COMMODITIES to this company.
This is Khyber:
This is Malabar:
Both of these dolphins now 'live' at Epcot - the Sea.

I have a fond, fond space in my heart for Khyber. While I worked there, he was being excluded from encounters because of this funny little behaviour he had picked up. He would swim towards the paying guest with his mouth wide open, showing all of his many teeth, and as a very large adult male, this struck the guest as, well, scary as hell. I thought it was brilliant and I loved him for it.

We, some of the staff, stood in as guests for apprentice trainers learning the routine:
me, apprentice trainer, Caliban
Me and Caliban, dancing:
Amazing, but unnatural.
In Khyber's case, I was asked to swim with him, and NOT react when he came hurtling towards me, wicked jaws agape, biting in his eyes. Me - frozen in terror. Khyber - bummed. I just know that he enjoyed that game far more than any other lame behaviours he was fed for..

A year or so later I was corresponding with DQB as an employee of my new company. I became friendly with the office manager and one day asked, how is Khyber? No response. Nothing. As less than friendly correspondence going forward.

Now I know. He got cut. And is now performing behind glass for even greater numbers of marks.

I really want to do more for them. I guess I'm scared, and feel like a hypocrite because of my time with them. I won't lie and say it wasn't mind blowing to swim with them, be up close and personal. I know why people love them and want to see them. But there's gotta be a better way...

Last pic. Me and Caliban. I think we both look sad:

1 comment:

  1. Dolphin Quest sucks. I think everyone should watch "The Cove" and get a clue that any institute that makes animals do anything unnatural is for pure greed, not anything to do with people "connecting" with animals. I understand people wanting to see animals and their kids to have some connection with them, but I had a blast going on that boat ride and seeing dolphins in the wild, and did not feel sad about it as I did when I was a child and seeing them forced to stupid tricks and having gross people touch them. What a sad world we live in when it's all about our enjoyment no matter what the cost is to the animals.