Desert dolphins: Plan to bring animals to Arizona for show outrages activists

More than 100,000 people signed a petition against a plan for Dolphinaris, which would house dolphins in pools and allow people to swim with and ride them

A plan to transport a group of dolphins to the Arizona desert so tourists can pay to frolic with them has come under fire from animal welfare activists who claim the attraction will be harmful to people as well as the dolphins.

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition against a plan for a Dolphinaris to be established on tribal land near Scottsdale, Arizona. The facility would house dolphins in pools and allow people to swim with and ride the marine mammals.

Dolphinaris is already established in five locations in Mexico. Its parent company, Ventura Entertainment, is looking to expand to the US with the Arizona attraction, which will be near OdySea in the Desert – a 35-acre complex featuring sharks, turtles and penguins.

OdySea has denied that it is affiliated with the Dolphinaris project. According to reports in the Mexican media , the $20m Dolphinaris development is set to open in July. A protest against the attraction is planned for 7 May.

Opponents of the Dolphinaris argue the hot, dusty environment is no place for dolphins, which would be expected to swim in small, repetitive circles in an area vastly smaller than their natural marine habitat.

The Humane Society said swimming-with-dolphins attractions are also risky for people. There have been reports of confined dolphins biting people and even incidents that resemble sexual assault.

“These animals are used to an environment where they can roam, swimming hundreds of miles a day in a rich environment,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field coordinator at the Humane Society. “Once you put them in a tank, it’s an impoverished existence. It would be like if someone never let you out of your bedroom. There has been some sexual aggression towards swimmers. It’s not a good environment for anyone.”

Young said it “seems oxymoronic” for people to go to the desert to see dolphins. She called for better regulation of facilities with dolphins, with around a dozen places in the US offering swim with the dolphin experiences.

Some researchers have called for an end to dolphin captivity , stating that it is cruel to trap intelligent, social creatures that require a large amount of space to feed and maintain relationships within their pods.

Tourist attractions that make marine creatures perform for visitors have come under increasing scrutiny since the 2013 documentary Blackfish caused a major dent in the reputation of SeaWorld, the theme-park operator known for its killer whale shows. In May, SeaWorld announced that it will stop breeding killer, or orca, whales in captivity . It will retain the 23 whales it currently has in its parks, however.

Ventura Entertainment didn’t respond to a Guardian request for comment on its plans for the Arizona facility. © Guardian News and Media 2016