Dolphins are one of the most intelligent species that inhabit the planet. Their skills and easy training have seen them participate in aquatic shows for years.
In Cuba, the country’s six dolphinariums are among its top tourist attractions. The dolphinarium in Cayo Santa María, north of the province of Villa Clara, is the largest.
Carlos Kadir Delgado has worked as a dolphin trainer and entertainer at this center for six years. Based on his experience, he notes that teaching these animals is an easy job. The training is based on awarding the dolphins when they perform different exercises, or trained behaviors, as they are usually referred to.
“Each trainer has a different way of instructing the dolphin. Achieving the performance of a behavior is the most important and the ultimate goal. They work and then eat, that’s their prize,” explains Kadir.
The dolphins have a diet based mainly on mackerel and squid. They consume around 9 kilograms a day, and are fed at different times, depending on their working hours, adds the trainer.
Adys Gutiérrez, team leader at the Jardines del Rey dolphinarium in Cayo Guillermo explains, “The most important thing is that they are in a good mood, charismatic and that they do not get stressed. Their health is taken care of daily. The trainer and the doctor examine the animals and depending on their physical and mental state, it is determined if they are ready to work.”
DOLPHINS OUT OF DANGER
As the largest of its kind, the Cayo Santa María dolphinarium has 6 pools measuring 35 by 70 meters, where there are currently 12 dolphins and a sea lion. As a tourist center it is affiliated with the Marina Gaviota Enterprise. The site also has a restaurant, a bar, and a store offering photographic souvenirs.
Among the offers are seafood dinners, catamaran discos, sunset shows, swimming with dolphins, and other interactions with these animals.
One of the best-selling options is the Crucero del Sol. It consists of a trip on a catamaran with 80 seats, from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon. During the tour, visitors snorkel at two coral reefs in the area and enjoy a show and interaction with the dolphins,” explains Kadir.
While today everyone who enjoys this tourist destination appreciates the center’s standards and the necessary conditions for the animals to live in harmony, a few months ago the situation was quite different, thanks to Hurricane Irma.
Faced with the imminent meteorological event and the danger that it could pose for the animals, it was decided to evacuate them to the dolphinarium’s internal pools to avoid any problems.
Although the restaurant and part of the area where the show is performed were destroyed, Kadir emphasizes that the dolphins and the sea lion did not feel the force of the hurricane at any time, and were very well cared for by their 11 trainers.
However, the Cayo Guillermo dolphinarium was not as lucky. Its six dolphins were transferred to safety at the dolphinarium in Cienfuegos province before Irma struck. Thanks to the preventative work of the center’s personnel, today the animals are back performing and this recreational site has been completely renovated.
Speaking to those who work here, a great sense of responsibility and affection for the dolphins is evident.
The five trainers and their team leader, Adys Gutiérrez, note that just days after the dolphins were brought back, the five males and one female were in perfect health, feeding and doing their routines.
“They were transferred by helicopter in coordination with the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR). Hours before the passage of the cyclone their transfer was prepared. Their trainers were with these marine mammals all the time until their return, because the goal was for them to suffer the least possible stress,” explains Gutiérrez.
According to these experts, dolphins can only be out of the water for up to 72 hours, so during the transfer they used ice packs and covered them with towels to maintain their temperature, poured water over them and caressed them to keep them calm.
Even though their evacuation lasted 20 days, during which they were removed from their normal environment, and held in smaller areas with shallower water and of a different quality, they recovered quickly on their return, adds Gutiérrez.
Anyone visiting this Cayo Guillermo recreational center will find a completely new environment today, with a more comfortable lobby and a new image. In addition, a whole series of offers are available, ranging from swimming with the dolphins, to further interaction with them.
“The most popular offer is the swim, because it’s the most complete. In addition, it is the most beautiful, in which the client can be with the dolphins for around 30 minutes. They do all the platform exercises, the interaction exercises, plus the swim,” the team leader explains.
PROTECTING ANIMALS AND NATURE
The largest dolphinarium in Cuba, located in Cayo Santa María, north of the central province of Villa Clara, has a reproduction program aimed at ensuring the breeding of this species. The experience so far has been positive, as two of the 12 dolphins at the site today were born there.
According to experts, encouraging reproduction in these spaces avoids having to take other specimens out of their natural environment. In the same way, they note that those born in this habitat adapt much faster and better to the activities that take place there.
Beyond the possibility of having tourist centers like these, with attractive animals such as dolphins and sea lions, in Cuba care of the environment is a priority. This is demonstrated by the work carried out by the trainers, doctors, and all personnel in charge of the preservation of these mammals, not only in this region, but in different dolphinariums across the island.