International protests against the opening of a dolphinarium in Ölüdeniz have apparently been to no avail as two male Mediterranean bottle nosed dolphins, Misha and Tom, arrived in Hisarönü on Tuesday at 11 a.m. They are now acclimatizing to their new home in the mountain resort above Ölüdeniz in the province of Muğla in southwest Turkey.
The dolphins were transported Tuesday morning from Kaş in a refrigerated van, sedated, smothered in an aqueous cream to keep their skin moist and wrapped in foam and surrounded by ice. A Kaş based vet signed the necessary paper work and the two traveled slowly to their new home in Hisarönü, in the mountains above Ölüdeniz.
The relevant authorities have visited the site and owner Aleksandr Kuznetsov expects the approval required to open for business before long. The National Park manager in Fethiye, Sedat Kalcaz, has been reported as repeatedly saying that no license would be forthcoming until the dolphins were in the pool and their condition had been observed by the appropriate officials.
The manager of the dolphinarium, İbrahim Dilek said: “The animals will take some time to acclimatize to their new surroundings, maybe up to two weeks. In the mean time, they may be a little stressed but eventually they will calm down. At the moment they are bobbing up and down vertically but this behavior is normal. They need to adjust to their surroundings.”
Cathy Williamson, Captivity Program Manager at The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society is concerned the behavior may be symptomatic of a more serious problem. “The bobbing behavior may be a demonstration of the dolphins behaving stereotypically or listlessly,” she said in an e-mail. “This may be the result of the stress of the transport and adapting to a new situation. Transportation can be very risky for cetaceans and adaptation to a new environment takes its toll on their health.”
The pool was prepared in previous weeks: leaks and subsidence were repaired and the sea and fresh water mix has now reached a temperature of 21 degrees Centigrade. According to the dolphin’s owner, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, this is considerably cooler, and thus more comfortable, than the sea temperature they tolerated in Kaş, which at the height of the summer could reach 31 degrees Centigrade.
Workmen are presently building a large, blue fabric tent to protect them from the sun as well as curious passersby, in part because it will be at least another two weeks before the dolphins are ready to swim with paying customers.
To help the dolphins relax, colleagues of the owner swam with them and stroked them, saying that “dolphins do not make a special bond with anyone in particular, but they benefit from the company of people and enjoy swimming with them as a sort of way to pass the time.”
Not every one is happy with the arrival of the dolphins. Bayram Salman, a local business owner, believes his views are representative of many businesses in Hisarönü. “Personally, I wish the whole dolphinarium project had been handled differently. No one knew it was happening and the business community weren’t involved in the decision making process at any stage even though it has been done in their name. Personally I would have been happier if they hadn’t come. If the business don’t sell any tickets, maybe it will close.”
Doğan Eraslan, another business owner, said: “Now the dolphins are here and I wish they were still free in the sea. We must prepare to educate people about them. I mean, a dolphin always appears to be smiling, even when it is suffering. It is the natural shape of their mouths, but we humans misread their expressions.”
Meryem Tekin, a marine biologist and Fethiye representative of the Izmir-based Underwater Research Society, or SAD, has adopted a pragmatic approach. “Despite all the protests and promises from officials, the dolphins have now arrived in Hisarönü.
“It is not something I approve of as a scientist and animal lover but as they are here I think it is important to maintain contact with both the dolphins and the people running the concern to ascertain the working conditions of the animals, the quality of the pool and of course the well-being of the dolphins themselves.”
It is still unclear how the dolphins have adapted to their new surroundings; and the mixed reactions by local businesses and the public further obscures the future of the development. The following weeks will be an anxious time for the dolphinarium owners, local businesses and the more than 5,000 protestors.