Federal legislation banning tourist attractions from exhibiting and offering interactions with dolphins was passed in late 2022.
The decision passed down by the Mexican Senate was unanimous, but despite the measure, no animals have been set free.
The initial plan is to release the dolphins into the bay of Campeche, where a federally enforced protection area has existed since 1994. But no timeliness or other guidelines have been offered.
Of the 33 registered dolphin shows and experiences in Mexico, 18 are in Quintana Roo — mainly within the state’s resorts and theme parks.
But while clandestine operations are also a reality, it also appears that these businesses are fudging the number concerning the number of dolphins they have.
This means that instead of 300, the real number of captive dolphins in Mexico is likely closer to 500, mainly in Quintana Roo.
The law brings possibly unintended consequences. Resorts and aquariums that operate facilities across the country argue that these dolphin shows create roughly 1,500 jobs and that their closure would be detrimental not just to the economy but the animals themselves.
“Most of these animals were born in captivity. It is not just as simple as setting them free,” argues industry representative Silvia Becerra.
The average price of these experiences is roughly $US120 for 30 minutes, so it is not hard to deduce that the law portends losses in the millions.
“Many of the dolphins kept at these so-called reserves are in terrible shape, so it will be necessary to assess them individually before being able to release them,” said conservationist Rodríguez Badillo.
To get a better picture of the situation at these dolphin attractions, Yucatán Magazine contacted a veterinarian working with dolphins in the Riviera Maya.
The marine mammals expert explained that the situation was complex because while it was true that simply releasing the dolphins into the wild and “hoping for the best” was irresponsible — simply having them continue to reproduce in captivity is also far from desirable.
“There is so much money at stake, and the welfare of dolphins and other animals involved in these kinds of experiences is not exactly the top priority in most cases,” said “Martha,” who asked us not to publish her real name.
What is more, she argues that although the resort she works for has among the best practices in the industry, even there, things are far from ideal.
“Ironically, part of the rhetoric we are told to spin is one of conservation. Sure, we breed dolphins, but they are just money machines to these business people.”
But as if the issue were not complex enough, wildlife authorities and biologists are showing concern over an increase in the number of beached dolphins found on the beaches of the Yucatán Peninsula.
“It’s such a complicated issue because there is so much money at stake. But for those of us who work with these beautiful animals, there are also so many mixed feelings,” Martha said.
Animal rights activists are urging people not to spend money at places where these sorts of experiences are offered, as ultimately, this may be the only way to shut them down.
Like all species of marine mammals, including whales and porpoises, dolphins have been demonstrated to be among the most intelligent animals on the planet, possessing complex cognitive abilities, including long-term memory and complex language skills.