Armenia: Yerevan's Dolphinarium Closes Amidst Controversy
Armenia may not have a sea, but the Yerevan city government was once proud to say that, like “many developed cities in the world,” it did have a dolphinarium. Not any more. To the cheers (and jeers) of environmentalists, the Ukrainian company that ran the controversial facility has decided to set sail for fresh waters.
The 900-visitor dolphinarium, one of three in the South Caucasus (Baku and Batumi also have dolphin tanks), was built in 2010 in a downtown Yerevan park at about the same speed with which it is now being dismantled. The facility’s senior management cite the end of their “period of operations” as the reason for the decision to pull out.
“The animals have been moved to Ukraine; the performances are over since the period of operation has expired,” Nemo Dolphinarium Director Lili Sahakian told EurasiaNet.org. “This is the only reason.”
But environmental activists claim the real reason is entirely different.
“How could the dolphins survive in Armenia, which has no sea? Could they bear the extremely chlorinated water of the pool, the endless performances, or the frozen fish they were fed?” asked Silva Adamian, chairperson of the Bird Lovers’ Center, a non-governmental organization which heads an alliance of 50 NGOs which opposed the dolphinarium’s opening.
“Back in 2010, we talked to international specialists and they said the animals won’t last even two years. So, we now have what we have.”
The Nemo dolphinarium featured four 2.5-meter-long dolphins, a sea lion and seals, which performed their tricks in a relatively tiny pool – just five meters deep and 16 meters in radius. Environmentalists argued that the size and standards of the pool did not meet the mammals’ needs, and warned that the highly chlorinated water could cause the dolphins severe health problems.
Nevertheless, long lines of visitors came from across Armenia to pay 2,500-3,500 drams ($6 -$8.50) to watch what was billed as a “water miracle.” The minimum of three daily shows, offered six days a week, could feature a human performer riding through the water while standing on the dolphins or being propelled by them into the air.
The dolphinarium was first closed about a year ago, when the management announced the dolphins were going “on tour” to Russia. In September 2012, new dolphins restarted the performances.
“What tour are they talking about?” scoffed environmentalist Adamian. “It is obvious that the animals got sick all the time, and they were replaced by new ones.”
Adamian maintains that “a significant decrease in income” from the five-month closure prompted the decision to shutter the Nemo. Dolphinarium representatives deny the claim.