Two years ago I had a beautiful encounter swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand. A pod of perhaps 500 dusky dolphins swam wild and free around me. Their choice. When they’d had enough or didn’t find we snorkellers amusing enough any more, they buggered off.
In Cuba last month when we got the chance to swim with dolphins, we took it. The kids wanted to do it. But when I found out it was at a dolphinarium and not the open sea, my heart sank.
In fairly large but all-too-shallow fenced off areas, half a dozen dolphins were held captive. Like the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay just down the road, these animals were imprisoned without trial. Visitors got into the water and the animals were instructed by their handlers to in turn ‘kiss’ the visitors, lie on their backs, clap their fins, slap their tails and perform other banal tricks like some shoddy Chinese wind-up toy.
I got in the water anyway because I wanted to join in with my family. But it all got too much. I had to get out for a jolly good weep.
This was not the meaningful experience of encountering sleek, untamed cetaceans on their terms, in their habitat. No. This was a hideous freak show, in all respects the same as dancing bears and performing monkeys. I thought people had moved on from this kind of grubby circus. Apparently we have not. I felt ashamed to be human.
Photos: Moth Clark