Behind the Captive Smile
A historical perspective of dolphins shows in the UK
By Alan Cooper Cetacea Defence
March 8, 2003, marks the tenth anniversary since Flamingo Land dolphinarium in Yorshire closed its doors for the last time and at last found fame and glory, a dolphinarium ceasing to operate, the last in the UK! The end of an era, the end of an "industry."
Flamingo Land or Park as it was named originally opened its dolphinarium in 1968. The 1960's and 70's marked the golden heyday of a truly exploitative yet insidious industry in the UK. During this period over 30 dolphin shows ran in the UK, including the summer menageries. It is hard to know the exact figures of dolphins that performed and became mortality figures in the UK. A popular figure is 300, but I believe that to be a conservative estimate. Whilst researching the dolphins that were imported by Flamingo Park/Land, for our campaign the "Flamingo Land Dolphin Campaign," I originally concluded the number to be 87, on closer scrutiny, some years later, I came to the figure of a round 100! ONE park ONE 100!. The Klinowska/Brown report mentioned later is littered with remarks such as dolphin (name unknown), fate unknown!
So what closed not just Flamingo Land but all the UK shows?
When the US Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was passed in 1972, it reputedly became more difficult for the dolphin slave traders to obtain cheap replacement for their frequently dying animals. Without a law to protect dolphins, the US had been a prime supplier for the captivity "industry." With tighter regulations it became more costly to obtain an animal from the wild, a factor for an operator when considering if a show could continue to replace a regular dying star attraction and remain profitable. This probably closed a number of the worst in the UK, if indeed that adjective can be put to any "bare-concrete pool."
I contend that in the 1980's the growing animal rights community was predominantly dealing with vivisection, hunting and factory farming and failed to scrutinise the six shows in the UK, Knowsley, Whipsnade, Morecambe, Brighton, Windsor and Flamingo Land. In the early 1980's Greenpeace itself more preoccupied with anti-whaling, did however launch a private prosecution against Flamingo Land for breach of an import license. Doug Cartlidge an ex-trainer was at this time a rather lone battler against UK dolphinaria, challenging the Department of the Environment and local councils responsible for issuing operating licenses under the Zoo Licensing Act.
A significance in 1985 was the Department of Environment announcement of a review of dolphinaria and the subsequent publication of the Klinowska/Brown government commissioned report on dolphinaria. Later translated by a steering committee into legislation to become effective in August 1993. Pools had to be deepened to accommodate bottlenose dolphins. The depth was to be 5.6 metres at least in a third of the area of the pool. Flamingo Land's pool depth was 2.74-4.27 metres, a grandiose 24mtrs. in lenth and 12mtrs. in diameter The pool at Windsor also would have to be deepened significantly to accommodate Winnie the UK's only captive orca to. So substantial financial investment was required to upgrade the pools and who was going to provide that to a dying industry!
Another consideration at Flamingo Land was they held three female captive dolphins, Betty, Lotty and Sharky (captured from the Atlantic ocean, Florida in 1983 and 84), From August 1993 only mixed genders were to be lawful. A male dolphin had to be obtained, perhaps that is why the 'owner' of the three females, Bloom, was keen to keep Rocky, the dolphin from Morcambe Marine Land, moved to Flamingo Land, under the pretext that the heating in the pool at Marine Land had failed. Rocky was only to be extricated from Flamingo Land by a High Court Order and subsequently flown to rehabilitation and freedom in the British West Indies. Rocky used to being anthropomorphised in the show, was said to have fallen in love with his pool companions, however he didn't prove a convenient stud!
It was in 1988 when grass-roots activists took to the cause of dolphins in captivity and there was a failed bid by four activists to free Rocky from Morecambe Marine land into the Irish sea, which resulted in minor court convictions for the activists. In 1990 activists rolled up their sleeves and started concerted campaigns against Morcambe, Brighton and Windsor dolphin shows which eventually resulted in freedom for Rocky, Misse and Silver ( from Morecambe and Brighton ) who were reunited into the Atlantic Ocean after a 6-9months rehab project in the Turks and Caicos Isles. The Flamingo Land Dolphin Campaign was launched in April 1991 after the successful rescue of Rocky, it concluded as stated in March 1993 but only after weekly pickets at the dolphinarium and much national and local media that our campaign generated. Bloom's had boasted in the Independent newspaper 6th January 1993 that a new pool was to be constructed and in a BBC radio interview that our campaign was good for business! Sadly as our campaign suspected at its inception, unlike the the happy ending for Rocky, Misse and Silver, although we felt we could close the show, freedom was never to be an option for the Flamingo dolphins. Their slave-trade owner would never allow it. Instead the dolphins were moved to Kolmarden in Sweden on a breeding loan. Some years later they were still there, two had produced captive calves and one was barren. That dolphin was simply moved, a seeming mere utility, to a dolphinarium in Italy. No thought of the trauma caused to three dolphins together most of their lives.
It is there my assertion, that what closed the 4 dolphin shows operating between 1990-3, were strong grassroots campaigns and luck that they conspired with the 1986 published report, (ironic as Klinowska was/is pro dolphin shows, and was a member of the European Association of Aquatic Mammals, a mouthpiece for the European "industry!"
Since the closure of Flamingo Land, Cetacea Defence has campaigned physically in Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Canada, USA and Norway against captivity, Cetacea Defence was responsible for initiating July 4 as a "World Day for Captive Dolphins." On that day in 1998, launched a campaign in association with a Belgium Yvon Godefroid to Free Iris and Ivo from Antwerp dolphinarium. On March 3 1999 the dolphinarium closed, the closure undoubtedly hastened by our efforts. To celebrate the tenth anniversary, on March 9 Cetacea Defence held a public film festive at Shaftesbury Arts Centre to celebrate dolphins in the wild.