Controversial plan for dolphins to “treat’ disabled people

CAPE PANWA: The Phuket Marine Biological Office (PMBC) is considering building a 200-million-baht “Dolphin Center” near its aquarium as a way of treating people with disabilities and promoting tourism.

The project, which has already been approved in principal by Phuket Governor Udomsak Uswarangkura, would be run jointly with Danish marine biologist and dolphin expert Judith Kongsted.

PMBC Director Wannakiat Thapthimsang told the Gazette “The Danish researcher has welcomed us to join her in researching ways to treat people with disabilities, such as paralysis and autism, by allowing them to interact with dolphins.

“This has been done successfully in many countries already and would also help promote Phuket as a tourism destination,” he said.

He said that although the project had already been approved in principal by the Governor, there were still many issues to consider.

He had reservations, he said, about the idea of using dolphins to treat disabled people because this smacked of commercialism using a protected animal. “It is now just a proposal,” he said. “We must do more research – we are not even sure whether dolphins can treat such patients effectively,” he said.

The proposal has already come under fire from the UK-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), which argues that it is “impossible to accommodate the mental, physical and social needs of dolphins in captivity and that it is cruel to confine them.”

In a letter to the Gazette, the WDCS also raised concerns about the idea of treating people through interaction with captive dolphins.

“These [concerns] include the welfare of the animal – including the lack of respite for the dolphins, which is inherent in programs where dolphins are forced to interact, and the potential for injury and mental disturbance from irresponsible human behavior – the risk of aggression toward people and the potential for disease transmission between human and dolphin,” the WDCS wrote.

Funding for the project, if it does go ahead, will be primarily from foreign donations, K. Wannakiat said. A committee meeting is scheduled to take place on April 29 to discuss fundraising issues. Those interested in donating or learning more about the project can email Ms Kongsted at:

Phuket News

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