Good News and Bad News in Indonesia

By Ric O’Barry
Dolphin Project

We’ve had a frustrating time in Indonesia, working closely with the local grassroots group Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) to stop the exploitation of dolphins.  But we have accomplished a lot, especially in the past two weeks.  That’s the good news!

It was a very hard 20-hour truck ride for the captive dolphins Made and Wayan, and frankly we don’t know if they arrived dead or alive. We can’t get anywhere near the place.  It’s much too dangerous to try.  That’s the bad news.

As noted in my last blog, double-dealing went on as two dolphins were kidnapped by the traveling dolphin circus to return to the circus’ home base instead of going to our rehab center.  Because saving “face” is such a big deal in this country, the circus simply could not give these dolphins to “foreigners”.  These dolphins, assuming they survived the trip, are now closer to our dolphin rehab facility offshore Java.  Our sea pen is inside Karimun Jawa National Park where the captive dolphins were originally captured illegally.

Just a recap:  We signed an MOU with the Indonesian Forestry Ministry in 2010 to stop the illegal catching of dolphins, to shut down the last traveling dolphin circus in the world, and to help remove and rehabilitate captive dolphins and return them to the wild.

But doing so raised a lot of opposition and created a lot of enemies, funded by the powerful captivity industry here.  We’ve had a hard time getting the Forestry Ministry to enforce the MOU for the dolphins.  The Minister is under tremendous pressure from both sides of this issue.

Things changed two weeks ago, when Forestry Minister Zulkifili Hasan and I met in public, with the support of the US Ambassador, and he pledged to shut down the traveling dolphin circus and free the dolphins.  Outside, black-shirted thugs hired by the captive industry stood at the entrance and jeered at people coming into the program.  I had to wear a bulletproof vest and hire a bodyguard.  (Later in the middle of that night some of the black shirts came to my hotel room and tried to open my door.)


Ric in his bulletproof vest.  Photo by Pramudya Harzani, Jakarta Animal Aid Network.


The tension was quite high, but the Forestry Minister did listen to us.  So did the Indonesian media.
So, here’s what we’ve accomplished so far:

  • Captures of wild dolphins for aquariums and the circus have been shut down.  The wild dolphins of Indonesia will no longer be exploited for captivity.  No further dolphins have been captured in the national park since our sea pen was built there.
  • The Minister has shut down the last traveling dolphin show in the world.  This is a huge victory!  These shows are horrendous and exploitive, involving small portable dolphin tanks being trucked around the country, set up in tents in shopping centers and other locations for cheap circus tricks.  Forestry Minister Hasan agreed with us that this last traveling dolphin circus was inhumane, and our JAAN observers around the country have reported the circus is no longer functioning.
  • The Minister also shut down the dolphin show at the Akame Restaurant in Bali, where two dolphins were kept in a filthy small pool to do tricks for the diners.  The dolphins have left, and there will be no more abusive dolphin shows in the café.
  • A movement has been started to declare Bali a dolphin protection zone, where no captive dolphins will be allowed.  JAAN and I worked with local activists and school children, and the effort will continue to see that no further dolphins are left in captivity in Bali.  The Hawaiian island of Maui banned dolphin captivity, and many in Bali want to do the same thing.  We think this is a realistic goal and would set a precedent for the rest of the country. 

Our final goal – to rehab and release the captive dolphins – may still go forward, but it is clear that both the government and the captivity industry will not allow foreigners to participate, at least not now.  As we stated in our recent blog, the two dolphins Made and Wayan were removed from the restaurant in Bali and transferred to the holding pens of the traveling circus.  There, the Forestry Ministry has told us, the captive industry and the government will rehab the dolphins and release them.  The Ministry wants the rehabilitation and release project to be done by Indonesians.  We respect that decision.

There is also the element of danger.  As we have succeeded in closing down these bad actors, the potential for violence has escalated.  I can’t live in a remote jungle camp for several months while wearing a bulletproof vest.  Without the support of the government, including armed guards at our camp to protect us from the thugs hired by the captive industry, it is way too dangerous for us to proceed, even if we could get captive dolphins from the government.

It is not the best result from our standpoint, and JAAN and the Dolphin Project will need to keep the pressure on the government to follow through with their promises to free the dolphins.  You can help by signing the petition linked below.


One of the circus dolphins in Indonesia.  Photo by Kate Tomlinson.


We’ve offered the government our equipment and the use of our sea pen at Camp Lumba Lumba in Karimun Jawa National Park for the rehab and release project.   The first step in the dolphin rehab process is to get the dolphins out of their tank and into natural seawater where the healing process can begin.  We’ve also offered our help and expertise, if they want it, at any time.

As I said, it is not the result I wanted, but we need to move forward.  I’ve thanked Forestry Minister Hasan for the steps he has taken, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time I come to Indonesia for the dolphins.  There is a lot more to be done.

I am grateful, too, for the fantastic efforts of Femke den Haas and her team with JAAN.  JAAN is one of the best grassroots animal groups working anywhere in the world, and they take their role seriously and not just for dolphins.  You can learn more about their work by going to the JAAN website.

We are not giving up, by any means.  There is still a lot we have to do.

Our friends at Freedom Blue have posted a petition on the issue that I invite you to join.



Photos by Kate Tomlinson and Pramudya Harzani, Jakarta Animal Aid Network

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About Ric O'Barry

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Ric O’Barry, Dolphin Project Founder & Director has worked on both sides of the captive dolphin issue, making him an invaluable asset in the efforts to end exploitation. He worked for 10 years within the dolphin captivity industry, and has spent the past 40 working against it.

In the 1960s, O’Barry was employed by the Miami Seaquarium, where he captured and trained dolphins, including the five dolphins who played the role of Flipper in the popular American TV-series of the same name. He also trained Hugo, the first orca kept in captivity east of the Mississippi. When Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper most of the time, died in his arms, O’Barry realized that capturing dolphins and training them to perform silly tricks is simply wrong.

From that moment on, O’Barry knew what he must do with his life. On the first Earth Day, 1970, he launched a searing campaign against the multi-billion dollar dolphin captivity industry and has been going at it ever since.

Over the past 40 years, Ric O’Barry has rescued and rehabilitated dolphins in many countries around the world, including Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Bahamas Islands and the United States. He is a leading voice in the fight to end brutal dolphin hunts in Japan, the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, and wherever else they occur.

O’Barry has been recognized by many national and international entities for his dedicated efforts, such as being voted Huffington Post’s 2010 Most Influential Green Game Changer, and being listed on O Magazine’s 2010 Power List – Men We Admire for his “Power of Passion.” O’Barry received an Environmental Achievement Award, presented by the United States Committee for the United Nations Environmental Program. He has done countless interviews with such prestigious news programs as Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360, the Mike Huckabee Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

His book Behind the Dolphin Smile was published in 1989; a second book, To Free A Dolphin was published in September 2000. Both of them are about his work and dedication. He is the star of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove and the Animal Planet television series Blood Dolphin$.

Author: Ric O'Barry


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