Indonesian Travelling Shows Where Dolphins Perform in The Name of Education

More than 90 dolphins are held in captivity in Indonesia and trained to perform tricks in shows as part of the country’s so-called conservation efforts. Their future is uncertain as the government continues experimenting with a captive breeding programme to increase dolphin population in its waters.

Dolphins are kept hungry in order for them to follow commands during the show. They are only rewarded with food when they perform tricks correctly. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

Channel News Asia reported, Brama and Kumbara swim side by side in their little home, a murky plastic pool full of chlorinated water. The two bottlenose dolphins seem agitated ahead of the show in which they are a headline act; it involves performing the same maneuvers they have done thousands of times.

These are two of the last remaining dolphins in the world that still perform in travelling wildlife shows – a popular yet highly controversial business in Indonesia.

For animal advocates, the practice is among the worst forms of cruelty and exploitation. Years of constant confinement, food deprivation and loud noise during the show are believed to harm both their physical and mental health, resulting in stress, aggression and premature death.

Whenever the troop relocates, dolphins are put on stretchers and confined in a tank for 10-20 hours. Most of them are transported from city to city in the back of a truck, where other show animals such as sun bears, otters and cockatoos are locked up in small cages.

“The staff will put butter or Vaseline cream on the dolphin’s skin to keep it moist because it’s dry transport,” said Femke Den Haas, a founder of the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), who has been working with wildlife for more than 20 years.

“Dolphins are highly intelligent, social and acoustic animals. They use their sonar to navigate in the ocean. But when they’re trapped in a small pool, their sound constantly bounces back at them. And they go crazy. It’s like we live in a room full of mirrors and all you see is yourself all the time. You’d go mental.

“What’s happening to dolphins in Indonesia is extremely, extremely cruel.”

But for the government, it is not. Travelling dolphin shows are considered an effective conservation tool that educates people about threatened animals through entertainment. As long as their health needs are met, the show can go on.

Dolphins lie on a platform as they pose for photographs with visitors at WSI’s travelling animal show in Bekasi, West Java. The marine mammals perform more than 30 times a week, along with other wild animals such as sun bears and otters. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)


Indonesia is believed to be the only country in the world that still uses dolphins in travelling shows. Of the four troops, three are run by WSI and one by Pembangunan Jaya Ancol (PJA).

Both companies are licensed conservation agencies that also own big amusement parks, where captive dolphins are trained to perform tricks and swim with visitors. These include WSI’s The Sea Pantai Cahaya in Kendal, Central Java, and PJA’s Taman Impian Jaya Ancol or Ancol Dreamland in North Jakarta.

There is an exception, however. The acts mentioned above can be performed legally if the purpose is for research, science or safeguarding protected animals. The law also requires the preservation be carried out in a form of human care or breeding in captivity by designated institutions. This is where the controversy comes in.

Video: Channel News Asia

According to the Environment and Forestry Ministry, 92 dolphins are kept in captivity at tourist attractions, hotels and resorts nationwide. At least 70 of them were captured from the wild by fishermen, according to official data. The rest are believed to have been bred in captivity by seven conservation agencies, which also use dolphins for tourism.

Based on Indonesia’s law, it is illegal to “catch, injure, kill, keep, possess, care for, transport, and trade in a protected animal in live condition”. It is also illegal to transfer any protected animal from one place to another within or outside the country.


Dolphin conservation remains a grey area in Indonesia. During their rehabilitation and breeding programmes, many dolphins either have to perform tricks, swim with tourists or spend months in the circus.

This has raised questions about the underlying motive behind the captivity – whether it is conservation of a protected species or for profit.

For travelling shows such as the one in Bekasi, visitors pay US$3 for a standard ticket or US$4.5 to join the VIP row by the pool. Many of them also pay extra US$3 for an optional photograph with the dolphins. This means one circus group could earn more than US$4,000 in a month from 4-6 shows per day if it sells 10 standard tickets every round. Usually, the weekend shows see much bigger crowds.

Prices go up at big attractions such as Ancol Dreamland, where a ticket to watch animal shows costs US$12 per person.

As dolphin tourism continues to thrive, the use of the animals for entertainment has spread to hotels and resorts. Visitors to Wake Bali Dolphins pay US$110 for a 45-minute swim with the mammals in a chlorinated pool, and US$89 to watch them perform tricks. They can also join dolphin therapy” – a treatment the resort claims will help children with Down syndrome, autism and mental disorder develop self-confidence and social and academic skills.

Read full article and watch the video, here

This piece was originally published at / Author: Pichayada Promchertchoo


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