We spent yesterday in Coffs Harbour for the fourth annual “empty the tanks” protest. This is a global protest, and the third that has been staged outside Coffs Harbour’s Dolphin Marine Magic.
I admit that I was apprehensive about attending because I knew there was going to be a counter-protest, and there’d already been a fair bit of “trolling” on the FaceBook event page. I hate confrontation, and had no idea what to expect in terms of how our two groups might clash. I think most people are advocates for peaceful protests, but when a person is supporting or opposing something they feel strongly about, passions can run high.
Both in the lead up to and on the day of the event, I was shocked at how much hate was aimed in our direction. It seems so clear to me that keeping dolphins in tiny concrete pools and forcing them to perform tricks is cruel, I just can’t understand how anyone can feel so strongly in support of it. But apparently they do, and a large group of Dolphin Marine Magic supporters turned up to rally against our protest. We were kept apart, and there were certainly no physical altercations, but there was a lot of animosity.
We faced off against each other like two tribes about to go to war. We held banners promoting the freedom of dolphins, they held banners with “I love DMM”. We chanted slogans, they screamed at us to shut up. We travelled 6 hours from Sydney, they told us to go home. It was relentless.
We were accused of being pot-smoking, unemployed hippies. That was one my first encounters with someone from “the other side.” I was confused and frustrated by the insinuation that we somehow had nothing better to do than hang outside Dolphin Marine Magic and upset the locals. Firstly, I’m not sure if any of us would be considered pot-smoking hippies, but even if we were, so what? And secondly, the majority of activists are hard-working people with full time jobs who give up their spare time to campaign for things they strongly believe in. It made me angry. And then, as I looked at their group with children screaming, cars purposefully driving past to give us the finger, and listened to the nonsensical drivel that was being spouted, I realised I was judging them in much the same way. I wasn’t labelling them as pot-smoking, unemployed hippies, but small-minded, uneducated bogans. I was labelling them as selfish, unworldly people who can’t think past their own entertainment.
But if they’re wrong about us, then maybe I’m wrong about them. I don’t know who it is that supports this kind of animal cruelty. Maybe it’s people who are worried about their jobs or the local economy. Maybe it’s people who feel we’re attacking a local treasure. Maybe it’s people who really don’t understand why it’s not right to keep dolphins holed up in tiny enclosures.
I don’t want to fight with anyone, but I do want to fight for those who are voiceless. We’re not trying to attack locals or force people out of jobs, we’re just trying to stop cruelty towards dolphins. Coffs Harbour is a beautiful area of the country, and Dolphin Marine Magic could be adapted into a great tourist attraction that doesn’t involve dolphins performing tricks.
I think it’s inevitable that Dolphin Marine Magic will have to close down in its current guise. Animal rights is becoming a more prominent topic within society, and over 92,000 people have signed a petition calling for the dolphins at Dolphin Marine Magic to be released into sea pens where they can safely live out their retirement. I suppose that must be 92,000 pot-smoking, unemployed hippies. There sure are a lot of us out there.
We live in a stunning country where it’s easy to see dolphins happily frolicking in their natural environment. We have no right to confine these intelligent creatures in concrete pools and have them perform tricks just so that the kids have got somewhere to have their birthday party. It’s not our right to swim with dolphins. It’s not our right to be photographed with dolphins. It’s not our right to use wild animals for financial gain.
The majority of Australians don’t want to see these magnificent creatures kept in captivity, and we have a far better understanding of why it’s cruel to keep dolphins and whales in tanks. Dolphinariums are outdated, cruel forms of entertainment that belong in the past. We need to step into the future and see these archaic places relegated to the scrapheap of history. I think it’s only a matter of time.