The Kids Are Alright

Cynthia Fernandez is a veteran Dolphin Project Cove Monitor. She is also a school teacher who has created an educational presentation about the plight of dolphins. Traveling to schools and via Skype, she is bringing a positive message to our future generations.”  ~ Ric O’Barry

By: Cynthia Fernandez

The lightbulb went on in my head one day as I was explaining to my students that I would be absent from school for a week, as I was going on a trip to Baja, California to see whales and dolphins. I taught five high school biology classes and in each class a student would shout out: “Are you going to ride a dolphin?” I couldn’t believe it. I had been raised to respect and appreciate wildlife with a special love for whales and dolphins. Hadn’t everybody, I wondered?”

“Ride a dolphin?” I would ask incredulously.

“Yeah, aren’t you gonna?”

That’s when I realized that most students saw dolphins as a form of entertainment instead of the incredible, intelligent and beautiful animals that they are. My next thought was: “How am I going to change that?”

And so I began to prepare an educational presentation for my students. I wanted them to realize that dolphins are special animals, they are not here for our entertainment, they don’t belong in captivity and they needed to see the dangers dolphins face at the hands of humans. I wanted them to think for themselves about dolphin captivity and come to their own conclusions about whether it was right or wrong.

Dolphin Project Youth Ambassadors on TV in Thailand.

A major problem is that most people have no idea what captivity is like for dolphins. All they see is the show, walking away without any further thought of the dolphins. I wanted my students to think further and deeper. I also wanted to expose my students to the link between the captive dolphin trade and the dolphin drive hunts in Taiji, Japan. I wanted to expose my students to things they didn’t know about, to open their minds and to get them to think. It was never my goal to tell them what to do (teenagers have enough adults telling them what they can and cannot do.) I just wanted them to be educated and be able to make informed decisions.

There is a theme park nearby which holds captive dolphins for shows and “Swim with the Dolphins” programs. However, there is another theme park a little further away which does not hold any dolphins captive. As teenagers love to visit theme parks, it was my hope that a good, many students would decide not to visit the theme park holding dolphins in captivity.

Cynthia Fernandez at the Cove in Taiji, Japan. Photo:

Cynthia Fernandez at the Cove in Taiji, Japan. Photo:

I started doing the presentations just for my own students. They were wildly successful! Students were thoroughly engaged and shocked at what they learned. Students who were completely uninterested in school were totally interested in the plight of the dolphins. One of my toughest, unmotivated students designed a “tag” that said “Dolphin Squad.” Of course, I made him promise not to graffiti his new tag illegally. Each year until he graduated, he would stop by my room and ask me how the dolphins were doing. I had students fill out comment cards about what they learned and what they thought. I received comments such as:

“I never thought about the dolphins, but now I’ll never go to a dolphin show again!”

“I always thought the dolphins were happy, now I know they’re not.”

“Under dolphin smiles, they really miss their home.”

The comments went on and on. I was amazed by the understanding and compassion coming from my students. I decided I had to take this show on the road!

I started by doing presentations for other teachers at my own school, then started contacting teacher friends at other schools, asking to visit their classes. I then began to pedal my presentations everywhere I went. At teacher workshops, I was always talking to other teachers and setting up presentations. The results have been amazing. I have been to elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. I’ve even Skyped with schools in Spain, Turkey and Italy. Here are some of the results.

Student Art

Student Art

I’ve sent hundreds of red envelopes with messages from students to the Japanese Prime Minister, the Japanese Fisheries Agency and the Japanese Embassy, asking Japan to end the drive hunts in Taiji. I’ve also sent hundreds of these red envelopes with messages to SeaWorld and Six Flags with student messages, asking them to end their dolphin captivity programs. One year, my students went around our school collecting signatures on a petition to ask Japan to stop the drive hunts in Taiji. Two representatives then presented this petition to a Japanese official at the September 1st Japan Dolphins Day protest.

My students have done presentations for other students at our school. I’ve had high school students accompany me and help with presentations to younger students. Students have joined me at protests. And, most importantly, I’ve had many students return to me and tell me that their friends wanted to go to Six Flags but they convinced them to go to Great America instead, where no captive dolphins are held.

Red Letter 1

Red Letter Campaign


Recently, I’ve begun to focus on visiting elementary schools, as I believe the greatest demand for dolphin shows is from younger children. I’m not sure words can convey the great hope I see in these children. Each class I’ve visited has amazed me. The understanding and compassion shown by these children is inspiring. Their collective gasps when I show them a photo of a wild, male orca with a tall and straight dorsal fin compared to one of Ullises, SeaWorld San Diego’s longest held captive male with a collapsed dorsal fin is incredible. I show them the joy of wild and free dolphins and then the boredom and stress of captive dolphins. I don’t have to tell them that captivity is wrong. Their questions, comments, and desire to help all tell me what they are thinking. I recently received a packet of thank you letters from one class. One, such letter contained the following quote: “Thank you for showing us videos on how dolphins should be removed from captivity. Dolphins should have freedom. It was sad, but now we know how to make a change. People should know that dolphins are more beautiful when they’re free.”

That letter says it all. Educate kids, give them information, let them think for themselves and they’ll get it! The kids will make a positive change!

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About Cynthia Fernandez

I was raised to love and respect the ocean and all the animals that live in it. As a teacher, about five years ago, I was telling my students that I would be gone from school for a week as I was taking a trip to Baja California to see whales and dolphins. I was totally shocked by their responses. “Are you going to ride a dolphin?” That question was asked in each and every class. It was then that the light bulb went on in my head. These kids had been miseducated into thinking that dolphins were here for our entertainment. That very day, I decided to do my part in re-educating. My hope was to impart that no animals, including dolphins, were here to entertain us. I decided to focus on dolphins since dolphins and whales had always been my passion.

I had been an activist at a young age. When I found out about the tuna industry killing dolphins as they captured the fish, I made fliers and stood outside grocery stores, asking people not to buy tuna. I knew then, as a child, that killing dolphins was wrong. As an adult, after watching “The Cove," I was inspired to actively do my part to help end captivity and the dolphin slaughters in Taiii, Japan. Realizing that the captive trade is undeniably linked to the dolphin drives, I decided to create presentations for kids that show what amazing animals dolphins were and how they suffered in captivity. I created a three-part presentation for kids that focuses on the captivity issue, presenting information in such a way as to let them decide for themselves how they felt about captivity. As a Cove Monitor, I have traveled to Taiji for the past four years to see the capture process and slaughters first hand. This has served as an invaluable experience for my presentations, as I am able to show students my own photos and videos as well as share my stories from Taiji.

I’ve been amazed by the results. Kids totally get it. They simply need information presented to them and an opportunity to think about and discuss the issue. After presenting to my own students and hearing them talk about it, I decided to visit other schools. I’ve been doing presentations for five years now and have spoken to kids ranging from 3rd grade through seniors in high school.

I feel the presentations have been very successful. Many kids have told me they would never go to a dolphin show or swim with captive dolphins. Many have told me they wanted to help dolphins, and several have gotten actively involved and done amazing things. I’ve had students attend protests, present a petition to the Japanese Embassy and do presentations for younger students.

I strongly believe in the power of education. Kids are the ones who will say “no” to captivity and make positive changes. I encourage everyone to bring this issue into the classroom, and I am available to help anyone who wants to get involved. Together, we can bring an end to the captivity of dolphins and help bring an end to the dolphin slaughters in Taiji.

Educational Outreach / Dolphin Project Cove Monitor

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Educational Outreach / Dolphin Project Cove Monitor

Author: Cynthia Fernandez


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