Atlantis Resorts, which is soon to start building at Ko Olina on Oahu, is known for their out-of-this-world aquarium and water displays. But, one thing you WON’T see at the new Hawaii resort is captive dolphins. According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, the resort has dropped plans to have captive dolphins after considering the views of local and national animal rights activisits.
The paper reports that Ko Olina master developer Jeff Stone had pursued a captive dolphin permit in the early days of his resort planning but now says that is no longer the case.
“Although archival news clips have included mentions of swim-with-the-dolphins exhibits and dolphinariums, these are dated concepts,” Stone said in letter to Cathy Goeggel, president of Animal Rights Hawaii, according to the paper. “As with your organization and other local stewards, it is also Ko Olina’s kuleana to look after our ocean resources, including the mammals and sea life that inhabit the waters.” (“Kuleana” means “responsibility” in Hawaiian.)
In the Dec. 27 letter, the Star Advertiser reports that Stone reiterated “there are no plans for captive dolphins in the Atlantis Ko Olina project” and said Ko Olina’s partners Oceanwide Resort and Kerzner International also were committed to “respecting and celebrating the unique history, culture and ocean heritage of Hawaii.”
Goeggel told the Star Advertiser that Stone’s decision was preceded by demonstrations, emails and online petitions, and letters to Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
“We are delighted that Jeff Stone has made a formal commitment,” Goeggel told reporters. “This is a major coup. We think it’s the beginning of the end for captive marine animals in the U.S. We hope this action encourages Dolphin Quest and Sea Life Park to follow suit.
Tourist dolphin encounters have grown increasingly controversial, as have visitor-industry-controlled wild-dolphin experiences, according to the paper. In recent years, Animal Rights Hawaii, Keiko Conservation and the Humane Society of the United States have been working to end captive dolphin tourist attractions. They’ve protested at Ko Olina as well as Dolphin Quest Hawaii at the Kahala Hotel & Resort and Sea Life Park Hawaii, which offer dolphin experiences.
Valerie King, general manager of Sea Life Park Hawaii, told the paper the company has discussed the future of its dolphin program, but hasn’t taken any steps to discontinue its offerings. You can still book a discounted Dolphin Encounter at Sea Life Park through Hawaii Aloha Travel, and a helpful tour professional will take care of all the details.
“It’s a small group that has concerns. The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums that we belong to estimates it’s only about 3 to 5 percent of the population,” King told reporters. “A lot of people want an experience with the animals. We’re sold out all the time.”
Dolphin Quest did not immediately respond to a request for a comment by the paper.
King told reporters Sea Life Park places a high priority on animal care and evaluates all valid concerns. However, she said parks where dolphins are well cared for might be the most appropriate place for people to encounter them.
For now, anyway, that place won’t be the new Atlantis resort at Ko Olina on Oahu.