PARTICULARLY DR. JAY SWEENEY
Sweeney, who was involved in so many wild captures before opening Dolphin Quest, he was labeled a "dolphin trafficker" by others in the industry.
Before Dolphin Quest, according to Sun-Sentinel, Sweeney co-directed Dolphin Services International, "the second largest dolphin catching operation in the United States." An excerpt below from Sun Sentinel summarizes it well. You can click it to be taken to the full article.
Dolphin Quest advertises itself as a wildlife sanctuary.
REALITY: Zero of Dolphin Quest's dolphins were rescued.
Their dolphins are the captive bred offspring of the original 8 dolphins captured upon opening.
It cost only $200 to acquire the permit to capture them off the Florida coast.
Lono (Kahala Resort), Iwa (Hilton Waikoloa), Pele (Hilton Waikoloa), Kona (Hilton Waikoloa), and Cirrus (Bermuda) are all wild captures and still alive at their facilities.
Claim: Their co-founder Jay Sweeney "has never been to, seen, or directly participated" in the infamous drive fishery in Taiji, Japan.
REALITY: Despite photos, footage, eyewitness accounts, and documents Dolphin Quest still continues to deny that their co-founder ever took part in ANY drive fishery. They even go as far as to say "he has vocally opposed this horrific practice for decades."
Letter To National Marine Fisheries Service from Jay Sweeney. Obtained through the Freedom Of Information Act:
Claim: "Dolphin Quest sponsors and conducts groundbreaking studies that advance our understanding of these awe-inspiring animals and the issues critical to their conservation."
REALITY: Dolphin Quest mainly partakes in husbandry research. This is research on how to more successfully raise and keep dolphins in a captive environment. Most studies on cetaceans done in captivity is difficult to apply to the wild because their very behavior is altered in captivity.
Dolphin Quest does donate a small percentage of the profits their captive dolphins bring in (with some of their programs costing $1,475 for just 30 minutes) to research done in the open ocean, but this research is done by other organizations, not Dolphin Quest.
Claim: Their dolphins participate in the swim-with-dolphin programs voluntarily.
REALITY: This is a curious claim considering an article from the LA Times on the facility that was published shortly after they opened in Hawaii.
"Trainers insist the dolphins are not forced to interact with humans. If the captive dolphins didn’t like being petted and played with by strangers all day long, 'they wouldn’t do it.' Dolphin Quest training manager Jo Hay said.
"Still, if dolphins do not voluntarily swim from their holding tank to the open lagoon where humans are waiting for them, a net is used to force them out. 'They are like children. They’ll test you- like saying, 'Do I really have to do this?' We say, 'Yes, you do.'' [Rae] Stone said."
LA Times Article
Claim: Their captive dolphins' average lifespan is longer than they've been in business.
Claim: Their accreditations are proof of their excellent animal care.
REALITY: Dolphin Quest, like many Swim With Dolphin Programs in the USA, points to their accreditations when questioned about the quality of their animal care.
Unfortunately, they leave out that many of the people creating the standards of these accrediting businesses are in the captive cetacean trade themselves, including Dolphin Quest's founders.
American Humane Association:
American Humane Association's requirements have been described as simply being the standard practices of the industry NOT the standard practices the public are likely to expect from an animal welfare label. In addition, facilities can be certified without even meeting all of these requirements.
There have been multiple complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission against American Humane Association, claiming their seal of approval and marketing materials are misleading, and their animal care standards are “inconsistent with the public’s perception of what is ‘humane."
If you're wondering why this association's name sounds so familiar you may have heard of the alleged animal cruelty scandal on the set of A Dog's Purpose, as American Humane was the business responsible for the animals' safety. The incident has since been blamed on "misleading footage" by a third party investigator from the association.
Alliance Of Marine Mammals Parks And Aquariums (AMMPA):
Both of Dolphin Quest's founders, Jay Sweeney and Rae Stone, are former presidents of the AMMPA. This means they've had a hand in creating the standards they need to pass, which is a bit like passing a test you wrote the questions and answers to. What's worse is the association does not enforce regulations when centers don't uphold to these standards. For example, AMMPA claims that "not one animal in an Alliance member facility or interactive program is from Japan. Alliance policy strictly prohibits any zoological park and aquarium from joining the organization if the facility acquires animals from the Japanese drive fisheries," yet Kina, a false killer whale from an old drive fishery on Iki Island, is being held at Sea Life Park, an AMMPA accredited facility.
International Marine Animal Trainer's Association (IMATA):
IMATA still allows trainers to participate in the Japanese drive fisheries, like the one in Taiji featured in the documentary, The Cove.
In Japanese drive fisheries, wild dolphins are herded into an enclosed area by drive fishermen. The “prettiest” dolphins are sold off to trainers and marine parks all over the world. The rest are usually killed as “pest control” because the fishermen believe they are responsible for the decline of fish. The dolphin meat, dangerously toxic with high methylmercury levels, is then mislabeled as expensive whale meat and sold in Japanese markets.
By allowing employees to participate in this internationally condemned practice, their animal care standards are in no doubt incredibly questionable and certainly not high enough to give their accreditation much weight.
More info and articles on these associations: