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Dolphins Forced To Perform In Kiddie Pools For 'Pitiful' Circus Shows

They're pulled from the water and "shipped" from show to show on dry stretchers 💔

Wild dolphins can swim 80 miles in one day — but this pair is stuck in a circus kiddie pool.

Forced to perform in traveling circus shows across Indonesia, the two dolphins spend their days in this makeshift pool, jumping through hoops and being stared at by noisy crowds.

dolphin circus indonesia
Aaron Gekoski

Then, when it’s time to move onto the next show, they are pulled from the water, covered in lubricant and loaded into stretchers to be shipped away. They ride in trucks along bumpy roads for hours at a time with barely any water.

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A dolphin being transported in a dry stretcher for a traveling circus show | Jakarta Animal Aid Network/The Dolphin Project

In July, environmental photojournalist Aaron Gekoski visited this circus in person to document the horrifying spectacle for the animal charity Born Free Foundation.

What he saw there, and the things he photographed, were heart-wrenching.

dolphin indonesia circus
The pool where the dolphins perform | Aaron Gekoski

“We went on a Tuesday during low season and there were very few visitors, who were exclusively locals,” Gekoski told The Dodo. “Most people seemed to be having a good time — it may well have been the first time they’d seen dolphins. It’s just a shame these first impressions were formed in a small swimming pool, rather than in the dolphins’ natural habitat.”

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Children posing next to a dolphin at the show | Aaron Gekoski

In addition to the dolphins, the circus also keeps a sun bear and two otters. They perform tricks for the crowd as well, as their trainers toss them scraps of food.

For Gekoski, seeing the bear perform was especially unnerving.

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The bear performing alongside one of the dolphins at the circus | Aaron Gekoski

“The bear was a very sad state,” Gekoski said. “Watching a sun bear perform chin-ups or catch hula hoops is just not natural. It was clearly incredibly hungry and was performing for its food. After the show, it was led backstage to a small holding area.”

moon bear performing indonesia
Aaron Gekoski

This circus, called Wersut Seguni Indonesia, has a permit to host these shows — but Born Free Foundation is actively working to influence the country’s government to halt them. Unfortunately, there are multiple other circuses in the country who submit dolphins and other wild animals to the same cruel conditions.

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An otter performing alongside a dolphin at the circus | Aaron Gekoski

According to Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, which has thoroughly investigated the Indonesian shows, the dolphins are captured in the wild by fishermen and then starved in order to “easily” train them to do tricks. The group has also noticed that the holding pools are highly chlorinated and the dolphins’ teeth are intentionally damaged, presumably filed down, in order to make the dolphins less dangerous to trainers or patrons if they were to bite.

Most shows consist of loud music and flashing lights as dolphins are coerced into jumping through hoops, doing flips and jumping outside the water onto the pool deck. In some shows, dolphins are even made to leap through rings of fire.

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A dolphin leaping through a ring of fire at one of Indonesia's traveling dolphin shows | The Dolphin Project

“These are exceptionally complex and sensitive animals, perfectly adapted for life in the ocean,” Chris Draper, head of animal welfare and captivity for Born Free Foundation, told The Dodo. “It is unbelievable that they are hauled like baggage from place to place as part of a pitiful travelling show, apparently under permit by the Indonesian authorities. We are calling on the government of Indonesia to put a stop to this once and for all, and to work with animal protection groups to find a long-term solution for the unfortunate animals who have been subjected to this abuse.”

The entrance to the circus | Aaron Gekoski

Until then, this chilling cruelty will go on. But Gekoski hopes enough people will see his photos and choose to speak out against the shows — as the animals’ lives are at stake.

dolphin indonesia circus
Aaron Gekoski

“I want people to gain an insight into life as a performing animal,” Gekoski said. “I don’t want viewers to just see the animal; I want them to be the animal. Many species used in such shows are trained using cruel methods. They then spend the rest of their lives in captivity, living in completely unsuitable habitats, singing for their dinner. It’s not much of a life.”

To help Born Free Foundation ban these shows in Indonesia, you can visit this page.