Every year, a travel bloggers conference called TBEX is held in North America. I’ve gone many times. This year, the conference is being held in Cancun, Mexico and, as part of the offering of pre-conference activities, they are offering dolphin encounter experiences where you can go play and swim with captive dolphins. When I saw this, I was shocked. Captive dolphin experiences are a mass market, irresponsible form of tourism and it’s shocking that a travel organization that often talks about responsible tourism would promote such an activity.
I don’t often take “stands” on this blog. I try to promote responsible tourism as much as possible here – from teaching people about the elephant situation in Thailand to picking sustainable tour operators to talking about greenwashing. Tourism can be a force for good and I think that, as travelers, we should leave places as we found them and support organizations that promote sustainable tourism.
And captive dolphin experiences are not that.
I’ve participated in bad tourism in the past. Before I knew better, I visited a tiger temple and rode an elephant when I started traveling. But then I educated myself and vowed never to involve myself in an animal activity without doing research first. After watching the movie The Cove and seeing the dolphin slaughter in Japan, I learned more about the issues surrounding dolphins in captivity and was appalled by what I found. To me, captive dolphin attractions are wrong for many reasons:
- To obtain dolphins, organizations take them from the wild in inhumane dolphin hunts where they are driven close to shore and captured for dolphinariums around the world, with many killed during this process.
- Most countries don’t have animal welfare standards, rules, or enforcement policies that ensure proper treatment and care for dolphins.
- The average life span of a wild dolphin is up to 45 years,
while dolphins in captivity last an average of 5 years.Matt’s note: Originally, the word “shorter” was supposed to be after the word “years” but missed it. Upon rechecking, while Whales.org does state they live shorter lives, I can’t find the exact amount of time.
- Dolphins don’t perform because they just love jumping through hoops for humans, they do it because they know they get food if they do. Many marine parks keep their dolphins underfed so they will perform for their food. Dolphins preform because they get to eat.
- Most captive dolphins are confined in minuscule tanks containing chemically treated artificial seawater that is damaging to their skin and causes all sorts of diseases. Dolphins can’t use their sonar as well and, since they swim up up to 100 miles a day, just end up swimming in a circle.
- As highly cogitative and social creatures, dolphins don’t thrive in captivity as they are forced from their normal social hierarchy and environment.
- I don’t believe it is right to take wild animals, especially ones as highly developed as dolphins, and put them in captivity for our entertainment. If you want to see an animal, go on a wildlife tour.
Captive dolphin exhibits take wild dolphins and forcefully put them in a park for our entertainment. These highly intelligent creatures need to be out in the wild and, even if the trainers are well-intentioned, the very act of them being in captivity is cruel and unnecessary. India recently banned these attractions, and Mexico, host of the TBEX conference, is debating a bill now to ban these attractions.
You can find more information on the following sites:
Humane Society International Statement on Attractions
Timeline of Dolphin Captivity FAQ on Captive Dolphin Attractions
Humane Society brief on marine captivity
National Geographic article on dolphin captivity
I brought this issue up in the blogger groups on Facebook. A week later, TBEX issued a response saying they weren’t a political organization and didn’t want to force an opinion on everyone. I spoke with the conference organizers and, while they are personally against this, they worry that they would be “giving in to a vocal minority.” I disagree with them since I think coming down on the side of responsible tourism is never a political statement. It’s just good tourism and ethics.
We need to show TBEX that this opinion is shared by a vocal MAJORITY and that ethical and responsible tourism is the only one worth ever being promoted, especially by an organization that bills itself as “the future of travel media.”
And to do that, I say we must BOYCOTT TBEX! (Until they remove the tours!)
Since TBEX doesn’t offer refunds on tickets, we can’t bring financial weight to bear against them but there are things we can still do to get them to change:
- Sign this Change.org petition I created to let them know many people feel this way and that they need to lose the tours.
- If you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, don’t buy one and let them know you won’t consider attending if they don’t remove these tours.
- If you are attending, don’t go. You can’t have a conference without people.
- Pressure speakers to pull out if the encounters aren’t banned. Here is a list of announced speakers.
- Donate to dolphin causes in order to help spread the word and get these causes shutdown. Here are some worth supporting: Save the Whales, Blue Voice, Dolphin Project.
I don’t want TBEX to be cancelled – I want them to take these activities off their schedule. But until they remove these activities, we must boycott TBEX. Their inclusion of these activities in the agenda is a de facto approval of these tours and that can’t stand. A travel organization should promote responsible tourism. We need to let them know we don’t want to be part of a travel conference that is actively promoting irresponsible tourism.
Please join me in boycotting TBEX until they remove these activities.
UPDATE 7/18: I sent the petition to TBEX. We got over 1,600 signatures. Let’s see what their response is!
UPDATE 7/30: Last week, I met with the organizers of TBEX. We both happened to be in Las Vegas so we got together to discuss “Dolphingate.” With a heavy heart, I must report that TBEX will not remove the dolphin activities from their schedule. It was always a long shot but not enough fellow bloggers (especially attendees) joined the petition. While we had over 1,700 signatures on the petition, a lot were consumers and not enough were industry. At the end of the day, if industry doesn’t pressure an industry organization, they won’t change.
I had hoped more would join and while we had a lot of people change their mind, we didn’t reach a critical mass. TBEX said they will be putting sessions into the schedule about responsible tourism. While that is a great first step, I don’t believe that goes far enough and, as such, I to boycott the event. I won’t be going and I still encourage other bloggers not to go.
I do believe that TBEX was taken aback by this backlash and will be more judicious about selecting tours in the future but this doesn’t change the situation now. We pushed them in the right direction, and we raised a lot of awareness about this issue. It’s a step in the right direction.
Short of all the speakers and sponsors dropping out, TBEX won’t change their position. I understand where TBEX’s position and our meeting was cordial. I have no ill will toward the organizers. We just greatly disagree on this issue.
At the end of the day, I can at least say we raised this issue (and the greater issue of responsible tourism) into the main discussion of travel bloggers. That’s a step in the right direction.
I won’t be attending TBEX Cancun, and if you are a blogger who believes that environmental responsibility is important, I urge you not to either.
Update 8/12 – Hi Dolphin lovers,
Some major developments:
First, The Guardian Newspaper picked up our cause: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/aug/07/travel-bloggers-call-for-conference-to-cancel-dolphin-tours
Yay! (Though the response from TBEX is sad).
Second, today TBEX announced speakers to discuss responsible tourism today: http://tbexcon.com/us/2014/08/12/responsible-travel-expert-dr-martha-honey-to-keynote-at-tbex-cancun/
This is great because we need to get these environmental tourism activists to take a stand. Having this discussion at the conference is great, especially since it is the first keynote, but Dr. Honey and blogger Bret Love from Green Global Travel (if they are as responsible as they say they are) need to say something during the conference and before about why dolphin tours are bad and how irresponsible they are. Here is what I am suggesting for action:
1. Issue a statement about the inclusion of dolphin tours in the TBEX program. If these folks are into green and responsible tourism, they will be against these awful tours and they should publicly say so.
2. Speak out AT the conference during their talk and say that these tours are wrong, should be closed down, and that future TBEX events shouldn’t have captive animal tours included in the schedule.
As proponents of responsible tourism, these two speakers have a chance to educate writers and hold sway over a conference that so far as been deaf to concerns about these tours.
Update 8/13 – This morning I was woken up and made aware of this post: http://greenglobaltravel.com/2014/08/12/dolphin-tours-tbex-cancun-boycott/
In it the author states that he worked with the Cancun tourism board to get the tours removed from TBEX. Now, I have had no discussions with this guy nor do I know anyone who has but TBEX has removed the tours from their website and are promoting this post so I think it is legit.
I have emailed TBEX and Cancun for confirmation but while this article paints the picture that it was all him, the pressure we added and the fact we pushed this issue to the forefront I think it was eventually got Cancun to change their opinion. I salute the blogger for using his connections to get the ball past the finish line.
I believe we succeeded and now responsible tourism is on the agenda at TBEX.
It’s a good day for dolphins!