Life and Death of Taiji Dolphins in Sealanya, Turkey

When you look in the eye…

On February 5, 2008, 12 dolphins were flown to Turkey by an Istanbul-based cargo airline called Kuzu Airlines Cargo that in July 2009 rebranded to ULS Airlines.

On their website ULS makes no secret of their complicity in the dolphin slave trade (the spelling errors are theirs):

“KUZU Airlines Cargo carried 12 dolphins from Osaka to Izmir on 5th and 6th of February, 2008. The first leg of the operation from Osaka to Tienjin was three hours. After one hour standing on Tienjin Airport for fuel uplift, the second leg from Tienjin to Almaaty lasted for 5 hours and 10 minutes. In Almaaty again fuel uplift lasted for one hour. The operation ended succesfully in Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport with the final flight leg from Almaaty to Izmir that lasted for 5 hours and 40 minutes.

The captain, who operated the flight, Nuri POCAN told that the dolphins were between 7 and 14 years old and each was weighing about 1,4 tonnes. They were carried in the wet hammocks which were hung in special containers and their skin have been covered with a special gel to prevent loosing the moisture. Maindeck cabin temperature was fixed to 15°C and the cabin pressure altitude was kept at 5.000 feet for the dolphins comfort. The Flight altitude was never higher than 27.000 feet.

Two Brasilian instructors and an English veterinarian accompanied to the dolphins and no problem reported about the heath of the dolphins during the whole journey. The wild dolphins will be trained by their Brasilian instructors for show and rehabilitation of otisim and the rest of their life will continue in Izmir / Turkey.

The captain Nuri POCAN adds: “The dolphins symbolize freindship all over the world and a person senses a great sympathy to these living beings. As a result of these feelings the Flight team of the operation and myself felt a big responsibility and it was really a wonderful Flight. When we arrived to Izmir we were proud of bringing them safely to their new home.””

The expressed ‘sympathy’ and ‘responsibility’ and concern for the dolphins’ safety never led to the realization that these dolphins belong in the wild. There is no money in that for Kuzu/ULS, the Taiji ‘fishermen’ and wholesalers who caught the dolphins, the pilot and his crew, the trainers, the vet or the new ‘owners’.

Kuzu/ULS is not new to the transportation of dolphins. In January 2009 this company transferred 11 wild-caught dolphins from the Honiara International Airport of the Solomon Islands to the Philippines. These dolphins were kidnapped from their ocean home by the infamous dolphin-dealer Chris Porter and his local stooge Robert Satu for their Solomon Islands Mammal Education Centre; a deceptive name as there is no education, just the wholesale of wild-caught dolphins.

In June 2010, an ULS Airlines Cargo A310-300F aircraft was used for the charter from Beijing, China, to Bucharest, Rumania, of three bottlenose dolphins, a male called Chenchen and two females called Nini and Pipi, originally the ‘property’ of the Beijing Aquarium, a self proclaimed ‘friend of Taiji’. After the 11-hour flight the animals were cleared by customs officials and checked by veterinary experts. The aircraft then continued from Bucharest to Constanta International Airport at Rumania’s Black Sea coast.

The Dutch Dolfinarium at Harderwijk and Loro Parque on Las Palmas decided to use ULS Airlines to ship an orca named Morgan, out of the Netherlands to the Spanish Canary Islands on November 29, 2011. Morgan, found lost and underfed, was taken from the wild to be rehabilitated, but then manipulated into permanent captivity by the Dutch Government, the Harderwijk Dolfinarium and SeaWorld. Through their choice of transport company both parks and SeaWorld linked themselves to the wild-caught dolphin trade and Taiji from where ULS trafficked at least 4 dolphins in 2010.

The Taiji dolphins however did not stay in Izmir as declared in the ULS post. Their stressful journey from Japan through China and Kazakhstan to Turkey was not over after the grueling 16 hours.

Ten of the wild-caught dolphins, 3 males and 7 females, were first acquired by the Taiji Whale Museum and then sold through a Hong Kong based trader, Hammond Consultants Hong Kong Limited, to GÜNÖZ PARK TURİZM YATIRIM A.Ş. in Alanya, Turkey. These dolphins were sold for US$28.000 per animal. The other two dolphins on the Kuzu flight came from  Dolphin Lair, a swim-with-the-dolphins facilty in Japan that closed in 2008.  The blog ‘Abandoned Kansai’ reports:

“The Dolphin Lair was a small dolphinarium along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea in central Japan. The regular entrance fee was 500 Yen for age 3 till elementary school (usually around age 12), 800 Yen for everyone older than that (currently 100 Yen are about 0.80 EUR or 0.85 USD). A 20 minute long “Petting Course” was 2.500 / 3.000 Yen, the 40 minute long “Swimming Course” cost 6.000 Yen for kids who were at least in third grade of elementary school and 8.000 Yen for everyone past elementary school. Dolphin Lair also offered a “Diving Course” for 11.000 Yen, though I am not sure if that involved the dolphins, too.”

Sealanya Dolphin Park opened its doors a couple of months after the Kuzu flight touched down, with the Taiji dolphins as their star attraction. Alanya, where Sealanya is located is, depending on the route taken, roughly 600 kilometers away from Izmir; a seven and a half to eight hour journey by road if there is no traffic and no stops are made.

The Sealanya circus stage

The ULS webpage describes under the title ‘The Flying Dolphins’ how the 12 dolphins were accompanied by two Brazilian trainers and an English vet. By mid 2009 there was also a Mexican trainer of dolphins and sea lions at the Sealanya facility called Gali Jose Diaz, 24 at the time. The dolphin exploitation industry is truly a global, interconnected business.

The German organization Atlanticblue talks about 10 bottlenose dolphins destined for Sealanya, while there were 12 dolphins on the ULS plane.

According to Ceta Base’s March 2012 ‘Tracking Taiji’ report, only 10 of the dolphins had Sealanya as destination, the two others are listed as having been sent to an unknown location.

In February 2010, all Turkish news articles however mention 11 dolphins at Sealanya when reporting on the tragic, but predictable death of four of them within eight days, exactly two years after their arrival. The first dolphin is found dead on February 6. The next one died on February 9, the third February 10 and the fourth one died on February 14.

Dolphins often live a short and miserable life in concrete tanks, before dying an early death due to a combination of boredom, disease, inadequate food, poor water quality and stress … or the inability to hide from bad weather.

Sealanya officials cited the severe storms and heavy rains on the days preceding the deaths as a possible factor. The Antalya Provincial Directorate of Agriculture took samples of pool water and food, and tissue and blood samples from the dolphin carcasses. It is unknown if a report on the findings was eventually published.

Bedrullah Erçin, Antalya Provincial Director of Agriculture, in his statement on the deaths added that each dolphin valued around 100 thousand Turkish Lira. You can roughly divide this number by three to get euro or dollars (by the current 2016 exchange rate). The trade in dolphins is obviously big business and funds and perpetuates the slaughters in the Solomon Islands and Taiji.

All Turkish news websites claim that after the deaths, 7 dolphins and 4 seals remained; Sealanya General Manager Pinar Tung himself stated at the time that the facility had seven remaining dolphins, whose health condition was fine.

The Save Japan Dolphins Coalition wrote after the deaths that eight other Taiji dolphins that were captured with those who died remain at the Sealanya Dolphin Park.

The French-language, Belgian site Dauphinlibre claims that in 2012 only three of the Taiji dolphins were still alive, but at the same time says that in September 2012 there were 8 dolphins, all from Taiji, suggesting the numbers were replenished. They do not mention their source(s).

So it is unclear if all 12 dolphins ended up in Sealanya or not and how many have died since. The captive industry tries hard to hide their dirty secrets.

If only they could speak in a language we could understand

When I visited Sealanya early September 2016, there were six bottlenose dolphins and four sea lions at the place. So at least one more must have died since 2008 or was traded away.

On the day that I visited three dolphins were used to perform in the main show. The shows are more or less the same everywhere. The dolphins are learned a few standard routines that some claim display their intelligence. In my opinion these simplistic circus tricks are an insult to their intelligence that in the wild is used for complex social interactions and innovative hunting techniques, including language and tool-use, and passing this culture on to their offspring.

Entrance to the dolphin prison arena

The three ‘show dolphins’ were introduced as Star, 12 years old, Settus (or something close in pronunciation), 17 years old and Echo, 34 years old. Echo would be too old to be one of the 12 Taiji dolphins flown in and reported by ULS as between 7 and 14 years old in 2008; that is, if both the ULS and the Sealanya information is correct.

The circus act consisted of synchronized jumps, the dolphins performing a salto or spinning along their axis, hitting balls hung over the pool and jumping over the trainers in the water; balancing a ball on the end of the rostrum or twirling a hula hoop around it; pulling or pushing trainers through the water; tail-walking through the water (announced as ‘moon-walking’ accompanied by Michael Jackson’s music); ‘singing’ in high pitched shrieks; beaching themselves, spinning on their bellies and sliding back in the water; surfing on top of dolphins; splashing the spectators; waving flippers and tails at the tourists and a ‘football match’ consisting of ‘kicking’ balls with their tails into the public. There was even a short ‘educational’ section in which the basic anatomy (dorsal, flippers, tail) of the dolphins was explained.

Tail wave
Tail walking
Tail walking

They seemed to spend all their time in the show pool (both during the sea lion show and in between shows) that has no shade.

After the show, the circus dolphins received some additional training while in the adjacent much smaller pools (there are six smaller basins besides the show pool) there was an extensive ‘swimming with the dolphins’ program (SWTD) with three different bottlenoses in three separate pools.

The swim with the dolphins pools at Sealanya

The swimming with dolphin program consisted of the obligatory kiss-the-dolphin photo opportunity, petting the dolphin, being dragged around the small pool hanging onto the dolphin’s dorsal or pectoral fin, holding the two flippers while the dolphin erects his or her upper body vertically out of the water and ‘conducting’ a dolphin ‘symphony’.

After the swim-with program and a minute training session that included some jumping commands and the familiar touch-the-ball-at-the-end-of-the-pole routine, the trainers locked up the facility and the remaining public was ‘driven’ to the exit. Two of the swim-with dolphins were put together in one pool, but the three ‘show dolphins’ were still in the main pool.

After the sensory overload of whistles, commands, blasting music, applauding public and exercise, the circus dolphins are left to the absence of all of that in the sterile environment of their pool.

Listless before the show
Listless after the show

Outside of the circus act with its food rewards they were logging at the surface, beaks against the pool edge, listless, catatonic. Their upper backs, just below the blowholes seemed to be scarred from sunburn from spending hours in this logging position in the absence of shade.

Possible sunburn scars
Possible sunburn scars
Possible sunburn scars

Before and after the encounters with tourists the swim-with dolphins behaved the same, logging on the surface in their separate pools. The only difference being that the smaller pools had bands of blue-and-white fabric overhanging them that provided some shade. The dolphins only showed interest in their surroundings when somebody would walk by with a cool box with food in it. Dolphins spy-hop in the wild, but never with their mouths open. In the wild, no dead, defrosted fish fall from the sky. Food dependence is the way through which dolphin slaves are forced into submission. They don’t get their daily rations before or after performing, but during the show. This is not ‘positive reinforcement’, this is blackmail, a negative.

The attendance consisted mainly of Russian and German tourists, some 70 people in all, leaving three quarters of the stadium empty.

The arena

Even though this stretch of coastline near Alanya is dotted with luxury, all-inclusive resorts, each with their own water slides on the property and the typical jet-ski, hang-glider-behind-speed-boat and banana-tube-ride entertainment across the road in the Mediterranean Sea, the tourist numbers are down because of the unstable political situation and terror threats.

On their website Sealanya not only advertises their dolphin show, but also swimming with dolphins and dolphin therapy (the “rehabilitation of otisim [sic]” claim on the ULS website).

From April 1 to April 30, 2016 there was one show a day at 15:00, except on Tuesdays when the facility was closed. From May 1, throughout the summer holiday season, the show times are 10:30 and 15:00 each day, except for Tuesdays when there is only a 10:30 show. The show lasts approximately 45 – 50 minutes, not including the extra-charge, photo opportunities afterwards.

Ages 0 to 3 enter the facility for free, while 4 to 9 year olds pay 17 euro; above the age of
9 the price is 23 euro or 75 Liras. Swimming with dolphins is 120 euro and swimming with a sea lion is 60 euro.

The money paid by Sealanya for the dolphins and the money paid by tourists to keep Sealanya in business is a direct incentive for the Taiji hunters to continue the drives and the resulting slaughter.


Dolphin Lair



PS: Sealanya’s message


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