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The desert’s first dolphin attraction opens Saturday in the midst of controversy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Dolphins will make their desert debut at Dolphinaris in Scottsdale on Saturday.

“We have eight bottlenose dolphins from the Atlantic ocean on display,” said Dr. Grey Stafford, general manager of Dolphinaris.

Visitors can meet a dolphin from dry land or, for all intents and porpoises, get in the water with them.

There are some that have protested dolphins in the desert since before the facility started construction.

Wildlife biologist Courtney Vail has been working with nonprofit conservation and animal welfare organizations for 25 years and supports the #DolphinFreeAZ movement.

“At what cost is this entertainment?” Vail said. “This perpetuates a cruel industry, a supply and demand chain that is devastating to dolphins worldwide.”

The dolphins are forced to swim in tiny circles all year long, she said.

“You’re going to see these magnificent creatures in shallow pools, nothing more than a glorified bathtub,” Vail said.

Stafford knows there are concerns, he just hopes people hear the facts.

“The fact is that dolphins in human care thrive,” Stafford said. “They live as long as or longer than their wild counterparts, and many of the lessons that we’ve learned in human care situations like this actually go to help save animals in the wild.”

Stafford said that species of dolphin spends most of its time close to the surface, usually less than 10 feet deep in water.

“Our pools are 10 feet deep, about a million gallons of freshly filtered salt water,” he said.

It’s not just having these animals on display, but it’s giving back, so that the lessons we learn help conserve animals in wild as well as here in human care, Stafford said.

Vail said the dolphins are only surviving in captivity, they’re not thriving. The dolphins are forced to interact with patrons and each other, without choice, because there is not enough room.

“The quality of life for the dolphins in those tanks [is not there]; they are deprived socially, psychologically and physically,” Vail said.

There is a shift in the public ethic about how we feel about keeping animals in captivity just for our entertainment, she said.

“If you look at changing public attitudes, we’ve seen SeaWorld start to change, we’ve seen Ringling Brothers announce that they’re going to retire their elephants to sanctuaries,” she said. “And we know that some progressive aquaria are choosing to end the show.”

Dolphinaris represents a step back from that progress, she said.

“Make no mistake, this is not about conservation or education, it’s about profit,” she said.

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