Amid mounting public pressure demanding the government to stop the exploitation of dolphins for entertainment, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan finally caved in. On Wednesday afternoon, he visited Akame Dolphin Bay Restaurant, a tourist spot near Benoa Port, and announced that he would shut down its dolphin attraction. He ordered his staff to confiscate the dolphins and to immediately move them to the Dolphin Rehabilitation Center in Kemujan, Karimun Jawa.
“We will release them back into their natural habitat but we have to complete some observations before doing so,” Zulkifli said.
The floating restaurant, which is shaped like a ship and has a 130 square-meter pool in the middle, attracted hundreds of tourists who came to watch the dolphin show every day at the facility that was opened four months ago.
The 1.7 meter-long dolphins were estimated to be seven to nine years old. They were caught in the northern part of Java sea. The Akame Dolphin bay restaurant had pocketed a permit that was issued by Wesut Seguni Indonesia, a Central Java based conservation organization.
Zulkifli deplored that the management of Akame Dolphin Bay Restaurant had placed the dolphins in a bad environment.
“This environment is not suitable for dolphins. Wild life will be better for them,” he said.
Zulkifli admitted that the Akame Dolphin Bay Restaurant had a permit for the entertainment activities.
“The existing rule actually gives permission for these kind of activities. But I understand that many people have criticized this sort of activity. Many people have protested via Twitter. This attraction received the attention of the international community. Therefore, we believe that it should be stopped,” he stressed.
Indonesia is regarded as home to the world’s last remaining traveling dolphin circuses. Indonesian dolphins (bottlenose and stenella species) are protected under a government regulation on plant and animal preservation that was issued in 1999.
Zulkifli admitted that Government Regulation (PP) No. 8/1999 had provided a leeway for traveling dolphin circuses. “Now, we are eager to revise the regulation, following public pressure to stop the exploitation of dolphins. We will revise it soon,” he stressed.
He also pledged to close down any other dolphin attraction sites in Indonesia.
“We will do the same thing in other places,” he added.
There are two other facilities in Bali that still offer dolphin attractions, one at Serangan Island in Denpasar and another one at the Melka Hotel in Buleleng.
The owner of Akame Dolphin Bay Restaurant, Ade Kusmana, regretted the decision to move the dolphins from the restaurant. “We are really disappointed as we have all the permits. We are not ignoring the regulation. We don’t understand what’s wrong. The government is supposed to revise the regulation first before taking any action,” he added.
Curiously, only a couple of minutes after the minister left the restaurant, a wave of tourists arrived and the dolphin show ran as usual. The ministry staff said that they needed time to prepare the transport of the dolphins to Karimun Jawa. Previously, activists from the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) staged a fierce protest calling on the government to immediately stop dolphin attractions in Indonesia, including at three locations in Bali.
These captive dolphins are mostly bottlenose and stenella dolphins, classified under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as a protected species.