Letter from Belize...
Caryn S - PADI Advanced & AAUS / Marine Scientist
December 26, 2007 at 12:42:27
I'm a marine scientist who has been studying the free-ranging manatee and dolphin populations in Belize since 1998. A few years ago, Mrs. Hugh Parkey purchased the island that serves as my research base station in Belize. I must say that I had reservations about the establishment of a captive dolphin program in Belize. But, Mrs. Parkey worked diligently with all the appropriate agencies to develop a state of the art facility using a natural mangrove lagoon that has enriched the lives of the 4 dolphins under human care in Belize.
Although I am not personally involved with the dolphins at Hugh Parkey's Belize Dolphin Experience, I have had the opportunity to observe the development of this facility and interact on a daily basis with the Director and the trainers. This article is a total misrepresentation of the Hugh Parkey facility in Belize. I cannot imagine why the authors picked this facility as an example for this article. The dolphin encounter program at Hugh Parkey's facility in Belize DOES NOT offer "swim-with" or "dolphin-assisted-therapy" programs. The dolphins under human care at this facility were born in captivity; they were NOT captured from the wild. The intent of the encounter program in Belize is to enable a safe and educational interaction with the dolphins so that the guests leave with a greater understanding of the animals, and are encouraged to take an active role in protecting the ocean.
Guests are NOT allowed to "swim with" or "feed" the dolphins and there is no "DAT" program offered here. The tour begins with a 15 minute orientation on the natural history, physiology, care of the dolphins, an introduction to some marine conservation issues, and the Watchable Wildlife Guidelines. Guests are then divided into groups of no more than eight. No more than 2 groups at a time wade waist deep into the water, guided by 2 trainers, for a close encounter with one of the dolphins. The trainers offer an informative, personal interaction with a resident dolphin who is asked to demonstrate behaviors as the trainer teaches the guests more about dolphin anatomy and behavior. The focus is 100% on the safety and well-being of both the dolphins and the guests. Photo opportunities are included; actual in-water encounter time is approximately 20 - 25 minutes. Each dolphin does no more than 4 encounters per day.
Please note that I am not in a position to comment on the validity of dolphin-assisted-therapy (DAT), but only comment that neither "swim-up" nor DAT are offered at the Hugh Parkey facility in Belize. As a mature scientist who has visited many facilities, both inside and outside the USA, I can honestly say I have never seen a facility or met dolphin trainers who care more about the care and well being of the animals than this group at Hugh Parkey's Dolphin Experience.