Makaiko, the dolphin, was a trainer for marine mammals at an attraction in Mexico 19 years ago. This is his story performing for people. It’s also the sad truth for thousands of dolphins held captive for tourist entertainment.
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Japan’s early years
Makaiko, a bottlenose dolphin that means ‘inner strength,’ was born in Japan in 1996. His large family of around 80 members was his home.
They interacted with other pods, and they spent their time exploring the Pacific Ocean’s coral reefs and enjoying the abundant food.
They showed solidarity and cooperation among themselves, which helped them to be stronger and protected them. They would all work together to help a dolphin in need if they fell ill.
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The first days in captivity
Makaiko was taken into custody and transported on a stretcher, which caused damage to his belly and fins. To prevent his skin from drying out, he was given water sprays. This must have been a frightening, stressful, and painful moment for dolphins.
He was then placed in a small tank after he arrived at his temporary home. This tank was not from the ocean and was treated with chemicals in order to keep it clean.
This place was very different from the ocean. It was very quiet, empty, and sterile.
Before Makaiko and Kumiko, his sibling, got food for their first time, it took them a few more days to adjust to the new location. They had been looking for food in the tank and were now swimming in it.
Makaiko spent 10 months at the Japanese dolphinarium. He and his sister were then pulled from the water and put into the transport stretcher once more. After that, they were placed in a box for dolphin transport.
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They couldn’t see or hear anything in that box. They remained in the box without water for 56 hours. They were given a cream that prevented their skin from drying, but also made it impossible for their skin to breathe.
Mexico: Living the Mexican Dream
Makaiko and Kumiko, Makaiko’s sister, arrived in Mexico. This was when I first saw them. They were placed in a smaller tank than their one in Japan. They also got to meet other dolphins that lived there: Miku (a two-year-old female who was very mischievous and sweet) and Rocko (a young male who was strong, kind, and sturdy). They were both born in Japan in tanks and never saw the ocean.
Six Flags is a dolphin sanctuary in Mexico City that offers different care and teaches them tricks they learned in Japan.
Being an entertainer
They were trained here to be dolphin entertainers.
They were forced to perform tricks like jumping up and down and pushing others at their feet. We had to touch them for hours, and then we would get in the water with them.
The trainers were forced to push the dolphins with their noses. They lifted us onto their dorsal fins and even jumped over our heads. As in Japan, the dolphins would be denied food if they didn’t follow instructions.
A ‘good enough entertainer’ is not possible
I was also fired because of my involvement in the rescue mission. The dolphin venue learned about it.
The dolphins were left without food and water after I was fired. It was the most difficult day of my life, and I returned one more time to say goodbye. For two months the dolphins remained in their natural habitat, and people came in only to feed them or to train them.
Makaiko’s life was then turned upside-down once more: he was left alone in his home.
Makaiko’s final days
Makaiko and other sea animals that were performing as entertainers at the venue had to be temporarily relocated to the area where he was being rehabilitated by Tropical Storm Emily.
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He was able to return to the venue after it was damaged by the storm and was then able to get in the water. The water was still very rough from the storm. Makaiko became entangled in nets after the storm destroyed them.
Makaiko was killed because the people who looked after him didn’t notice any of it. He was found tangled in the nets of the dolphin venue, where he was used to entertain thousands.