Circus Forces Dolphins Onto Land So People Can Take 'Selfies'
In a recent video, two dolphins lie side by side on dry plastic flooring next to a pool. A family of four — a man, woman and their two young kids — come up beside the dolphins and smile for a photo. When the photo’s finished, another family comes to take their place. Then another and another.
An investigator from Movement to End Animal Circuses in Indonesia recently filmed this scene at one of Indonesia’s notorious traveling circuses, which was performing in the city of Tangerang, on December 9.
At these circuses, which are run by several different companies in Indonesia, dolphins are forced to perform tricks in tiny, temporary pools filled with chlorinated water — and this can have dire consequences to the dolphins’ health.
"They go blind," Femke Den Haas, founder of Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), told The Dodo in 2016. "It's like when you go in the pool, and after an hour, your eyes hurt because you're exposed to chlorine all the time. And they get skin diseases and they also get ulcers because chlorine gets into their body."
When the show finishes in one city, the dolphins are loaded onto stretchers and packed into boxes so they can be transported to the next location.
"I think having to travel all the time in the stretchers would cause chafing on the skin," Lincoln O’Barry, campaigns coordinator at Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project, told The Dodo in 2016. "Dolphins are also used to living in the water — their organs are used to living in that weightless condition. I'm sure spending so much time out of the water also affects their physiology."
But these aren’t the only issues associated with these circuses — the dolphins are fed poor food and don’t usually receive proper medical care. Not only that, but the dolphins were stolen from the wild, and they often die prematurely due to the stress of captivity.
“All circus animals suffer and are abused, day after day,” Namira Annisa, spokesperson for Movement to End Animal Circuses in Indonesia, which is part of the FLIGHT Foundation, told The Dodo. “They languish in these circuses, away from their natural habitats. But these circuses argue that the use of animals is ‘education.’ Is it? The public has been wrongly informed.”
Then there’s the issue of the dolphins being kept out of the water.
At many of these shows, the dolphins are trained to slide out of the pool so audience members can take photos with them and even kiss them. But keeping dolphins out of the water for any length of time would be very stressful to the animals, according to Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).
“This is more like being stranded and the dolphins’ bodies probably respond at least partially (minus the fear and emotional stress, since they have been trained to do this and know it’s not permanent) as if they are stranded,” Rose told The Dodo.
“It’s stressful, as a simple matter of physiology — no matter what the facilities that conduct these encounters say, it’s a matter of fact, not opinion,” Rose added. “Cetacean bodies do not handle being out of the water for lengthy periods, which is relative to them [the dolphins] — more than a few seconds is ‘lengthy’ to a fully aquatic mammal.”
Dolphins aren’t the only animals used in these circuses — animals like otters, sun bears and cockatoos are also forced to perform. Bizarrely, the trainers encourage the dolphins to slide out of the water during the other animals’ performances.
“I think the dolphins [are] kept out of the water just ... so the audience can see the whole body of the dolphin,” Annisa said.
This display creates even more concerns for Rose.
“The dolphin should not be allowed to sit there like that, while a terrestrial mammal is performing next to it,” Rose said. “Aside from the stress on the animal’s physiology by remaining out of the water for a prolonged period, it’s not hygienic — being adjacent to a terrestrial mammal like this isn’t natural and therefore from a husbandry perspective isn’t wise.”
Fortunately, there’s hope that these traveling circuses may eventually close down, or at least stop using dolphins. One traveling circus — the Indonesian Oriental Circus — has stopped using animals in its circus shows, and Annisa hopes that others will do the same.
“This has set an important precedent, and we hope that many other circuses will follow,” Annisa said.