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Tens of Thousands of People Demand Arizona's 'Swim With The Dolphins' Park Be Stopped

Animals
Tens of Thousands of People Demand Arizona's 'Swim With The Dolphins' Park Be Stopped

A plan to open a dolphin attraction in the Arizona desert is being met with intense criticism and backlash. Mexico-based company Dolphinaris is set to open a $20 million “dolphinarium" on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community near the suburb of Scottsdale this July.

Dolphins are highly intelligent and socially complex beings. Photo credit: Flickr

The facility allows visitors to swim with and ride the captive marine animals. Parent company Ventura Entertainment already owns five of these facilities across Mexico. The Arizona location will be their first one in the U.S.

An unnamed employee of A.R. Mays, the construction company building the project, told TakePart that the facility will house eight dolphins in a million-gallon tank.

Unsurprisingly, animal rights advocates are speaking out against the project, saying that the highly intelligent, socially complex beings do not belong in tanks in the arid desert. A Care2 petition directed at Ventura CEO Mauricio Martinez del Alva has been signed by more than 110,000 people.

"This is cruel," one commenter wrote. "Dolphins belong in the ocean with other dolphins not in a hot pool in the desert."

Another said, "Have we learned nothing from the mess that is SeaWorld??" referring to the plight of killer whales in captivity exposed by the 2013 SeaWorld documentary Blackfish.

The nonprofit international organization Whale and Dolphin Conservation has also accused Dolphinaris of owning dolphins that were brutally captured in the wild:

Perhaps most troubling is that Dolphinaris owns dolphins that were acquired from tragic wild captures in the Solomon Islands. These brutal captures lead to stronger laws protecting marine mammals in Mexico after a public outcry over 28 of the 200 dolphins captured in 2003 were shipped to Parque Nizuc and several died enroute or shortly thereafter. Dolphinaris currently owns dolphins from the original Parque Nizuc population.

On the Dolphinaris website, the company says that "the well-being and the appropriate attention of the dolphins under our care is our absolute priority. We satisfy every physical and behavior need, including supervision of natural behavior of the species and reproduction programs."

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is working with the new facility. Agency spokesman R. Andre Bell told The Arizona Republic that once construction is complete, the company will apply for an Animal Welfare Act exhibitor's license. The agency will also make unannounced inspections at the facility to ensure that the creatures are receiving proper care, housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition and veterinary care. Violations will result in cease-and-desist orders, fines or license suspensions.

Scottsdale resident Laurice Dee, who started the Care2 petition, argued that no matter how well the dolphins are looked after, she is still against captivity.

"Pro-captivity activists may argue that captive dolphins are being well cared for in their respective facilities and that they do not have to deal with pollution and a number of other problems in the open waters," she explained to The Phoenix New Times.

"Well, regardless of how well captive dolphins are being cared for, living in tiny man-made tanks does not replicate the natural environment where everything—including and especially the ecosystem—works in harmony," she said.

Sharon Young, a marine issues field coordinator at the Humane Society, told The Guardian that swimming-with-dolphins attractions can be dangerous for dolphins and people alike.

“These animals are used to an environment where they can roam, swimming hundreds of miles a day in a rich environment," she said. “Once you put them in a tank, it's an impoverished existence. It would be like if someone never let you out of your bedroom. There has been some sexual aggression towards swimmers. It's not a good environment for anyone."

An "Empty the Tanks" demonstration has been initiated against the Arizona dolphinarium. Organizers of the peaceful protest, which will take place in Scottsdale on May 7, said that "such abuse and exploitation of these sentient beings has no place in the 21st century, and certainly not in the desert of Arizona."

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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