Dolphinarium plans create major protest.
Opposition to the construction of a dolphinarium in southwestern Turkey is mounting, leading concerned residents to hope that plans for the new facility may be permanently shelved.
Locals established a Facebook group called ?Free the Ölüdeniz dolphins? on March 12 and the number of supporters has surpassed 2,000.
?I am overwhelmed by the response this Facebook group has received. I want to thank everyone who has joined and posted comments on this group,? said Joanne Davis, group founder and regular visitor to Ölüdeniz for the last six years.
The group, which consists mostly on non-Turkish members, was founded one day after the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review published an article about the construction of a dolphin park by Dolphintherapy Ka? in the Hisarönü area of Ölüdeniz in Mu?la province. The park is scheduled to open in summer.
Comments posted on the group"s page expressed outrage that a dolphinarium was being built in Hisarönü, alternately describing the 250-square-meter pool as a ?pond,? ?torture chamber? and ?hole of shame.? Meanwhile, a large number of personal comments were also directed toward Ölüdeniz Mayor Keramettin Y?lmaz.
Apparently unaware of the negative responses online and the growing concern, Y?lmaz said: ?I don"t like working with computers and don"t have one in my office so I"m not aware of this [online activity]? however, I have respect for the views of those who may oppose the dolphinarium and invite them to speak with me in person. My door is always open to the public.?
Y?lmaz remains adamant that the construction will go ahead. ?I will say if we go with this mentality [that dolphinariums are cruel], then we will have to close all zoos that keep wild animals and free all caged birds or dogs that are kept in a house,? he said.
?The main goal of the Hisarönü Dolphinarium is to make these animals accessible to the public and accessible to children so they can learn about them and develop a love toward them and nature in general,? Y?lmaz said.
The municipality will take action if the dolphinarium is not properly operated, said the mayor, adding that he had full faith that Dolphintherapy Ka? would perform their job well.
Dolphintherapy Ka? spokesman ?brahim Dilek was not available to comment on the public concern.
Deniz Gezgin, a deep-sea diver and dolphin protection activist, said the decision to open the dolphinarium had come at an extremely inopportune time.
?This is a period when dolphinariums should be shutting down, not opening up, especially in an area like Ölüdeniz that is populated by nature lovers who would not support such a project,? she said.
Gezgin started her own Facebook group called ?Yunus Parklar Kapat?ls?n!? (Dolphinariums should be shut down!), following the deaths of four dolphins at Sealanya in Antalya last month. The majority of its 1,800 members are Turkish.
?We must understand that using dolphins as entertainment isn"t such a bad practice in the views of some Turks. But, as our page and the efforts of many environmentalists indicate, Turks are beginning to listen and empathize,? she said.
?I think education and exposure is the key here. Turks are naturally very emotional and if they found out about the plight of these animals, they wouldn"t support it. ?
Gezgin is currently organizing a petition against the opening of the Hisarönü dolphinarium in both English and Turkish to be presented to the Ölüdeniz mayor.
?We know the owners of Dolphintherapy Ka? experienced a slump in business last year in Ka? and this new venture is to somehow revitalize their business,? she said. ?But what they do not understand is that tour operators are very conscious now about dolphinariums and the number of businesses that support them will simply not be enough.?
Seyran Sucu, a local businessman, supports the idea of a dolphinarium in Hisarönü. "The dolphinarium is a nice idea,? he said. ?Hisarönü needs something to enrich tourism in the district apart from bars and music."
Salih Ta?ç?, head of the Fethiye branch of the Turkish Association of Travel Agencies, or TÜRSAB, said they are concerned the conditions at the Hisarönü pool will be inappropriate for two dolphins despite acknowledging the dolphinarium would attract tourists to the area. When initially asked by the Daily News about his views regarding the center, he said he was unaware of the possible negative impact of the pool on the animals.
?We were approached before the summer season of 2009 by a committee member [from Ölüdeniz Municipality] who wanted to get our business opinion about the dolphinarium. We thought it was a good idea, coming from a business perspective as tourists would not have to travel all the way to Ka? to see dolphins,? he said.
?Although we think the dolphinarium is good, this is only from a business perspective in attracting more tourists to the area. We are now, however, aware that the standards of the Hisarönü pool may not be suitable for the well being of the dolphins. We are concerned that the pool is too small for these animals, too close to discos with loud music, and we are not sure about the quality of water,? he said.
Agreeing with Gezgin that many Turks coming to Ölüdeniz are unaware of the needs of dolphins, Ta?ç? said: ?Most of our domestic visitors are from Anatolia; large cities like Ankara that are not close to the sea, so naturally they are very curious about sea creatures, especially dolphins. They come here, see dolphins and are totally awestruck. They wouldn"t know just on appearance if they are happy or healthy.?
Customers who do not support the dolphinarium will simply boycott it, Ta?ç? said.
?Maybe then the general Turkish population will also follow, leading to the closure of the dolphinarium,? he said. ?If, however, at any stage we hear or see that the dolphins are not treated and looked after appropriately, that they are in pain or unhappy, we will immediately pull our support.?
According to the World Wildlife Fund, or WWF, there are currently 12 dolphin parks operating in Turkey that earn an annual total profit of up to $35 million.
It is estimated that 50 dolphins are currently showcased in these parks, the majority of which are allegedly brought to Turkey from Taiji Island in Japan, since the catching of dolphins in Turkish seas is forbidden.
Cathy Williamson, captivity manager at The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, or WDCS, said her organization was deeply concerned about the proposed dolphinarium.
?The increase in the number of dolphinariums in Turkey in general, their poor condition, and the captures that have occurred in the country itself are not acceptable,? she said.
Following some of the more emotional comments about the building of the dolphinarium in Hisarönü, a British resident who wished to remain anonymous expressed her concerns in considered tones.
?I swam with dolphins once but they were about five miles off shore in the Mediterranean,? she said. ?I must admit it was an uplifting experience. I also visited Sea World in Florida but that is a place where millions have been spent to create an environment that is clearly nothing like the center at Hisarönü and is peaceful at night.?
She said a good bowling green or a nine-hole golf course in the Hisarönü valley would have been a better investment.
Jane Tuna AKATAY-Özlem ÖZTÜRK