03 October 2010

Quest to save dolphins draws support in Subic (feature)

SUBIC FREEPORT—The season of killing dolphins in Taiji, Japan, is about to begin this year, so A.G. Saño, the artist at the forefront of a movement to rescue them, decided to bring his crusade to this former American naval base and now bustling free port.

The Subic Freeport hosts Ocean Adventure, which draws families to shows featuring performing dolphins, sea lions and killer whales. Saño, 34, tours the provinces painting dolphin murals to highlight his cause.

“It was only appropriate that we should be doing this here in Subic. And contrary to my expectations, we were welcomed warmly and supported not only by our friends here but by the rest of the community,” he said.

No grudge

He said he does not bear any animosity towards Tim Desmond, the American owner of Ocean Adventure.

“But what he is doing is not out of love. It’s for profit. That’s what this [crusade] is all about. If he truly loved these sea mammals, then he’d use his resources and set them all free, back to their natural habitats,” Saño said.

He said he was led to this advocacy by the award-winning documentary feature “The Cove,” which exposed the annual herding and slaughter of some 23,000 dolphins at Taiji Cove in Japan. According to the documentary, the Japanese butchered dolphins, which were “rejects” that failed to pass a filtering process enforced by marine park officials to select dolphin performers for aquatic shows.

Costly performers

A bottle-nosed dolphin that fits the standards of theme park operators will fetch $150,000, Saño said. Saño painted the walls of Lighthouse Marina Resort, an iconic establishment inside Moonbay Marina Complex here, and drew converts to his cause.

Zedrik Avecilla, whose family owns the Lighthouse resort, said he also saw “The Cove.”

“We’ve always been active in the protection of the environment here in Subic, even leading coastal cleanup drives of the bay, and this is no different. When I heard that [Saño and his group] were here, I offered our walls to be painted. It’s our way of showing support for the dolphins,” said Avecilla.

“The hunting season in Taiji is supposed to begin this month. So far we have only heard relatively few incidents of killings of dolphins there, not like before,” Saño said.

Saño said the crusade needs to change the minds of families who are lured to theme parks like Ocean Adventure.

“They should know the toll captivity has on these dolphins. In cages, where theme park operators claim that they are well fed and nurtured, they still do not live out their life expectancies. They only reach about a third of it, in fact. That’s why most of the dolphins in aquatic shows are juvenile, they die before they mature,” he said. (Robert Gonzaga, Central Luzon Desk, Philippine Daily Inquirer)