Chapter 11: Campaigning Years
1992 - 1996
Apart from my brief trip to Germany in 1992, visiting Sweden in 1994 was a novelty in campaigning terms. Daniel Rolke had started his campaign the year before and held a July 4th demonstration at the front gates of Kolmarden zoo. I travelled over to support his efforts. Daniel was young in age but seemed pretty serious and determined. He seemed to have built up a small hard-core of activists to campaign against the dolphinarium. Local campaigns of this nature are usually only run by a small team, people who are prepared to turn out regularly, come hail or shine, to fight against animal abuse. We had 30 or so people outside the front entrance of Kolmarden to protest on July 4th. I was interviewed by the Expressen, Sweden's biggest newspaper. They also interviewed Mats Amundin head trainer of the dolphins. When I returned to the main body of the demo after the interview, Daniel wasn't there. Apparently the trainers had enticed Daniel into the dolphinarium and afterwards he told me they had been really nice to him, saying how well intentioned he was and perhaps he could have a job there! I smiled, they obviously were trying to exploit Daniel's youth to try and stop the campaign. I explained this to Daniel and told him if he was still there in a couple of years, they would use another tactic, one of physical violence, and that's exactly what happened.
The day after the demonstration Daniel returned to his house, where I was staying, with a copy of the Expressen newspaper. I asked "what have they written?". "Oh not so good, it's all about your life" he replied in Swedish English. Actually it was a fantastic piece for the campaign and the dolphins. "Slapp Dem Fria", "Set Them Free" it announced, with an inset photograph of me and "Englishman campaigns for dolphins at Kolmarden".
Of course when one engages with the media, one never knows which way they might swing. They could have sided with Mats Amundin and his story, but they didn't and I was very pleased. Daniel told me some weeks later that the zoo's attendance figures had dropped by around 40% after publication of the Expressen article.
A few years after this successful demo, Daniel was still chipping away with the campaign; he was also very involved with other animal rights issues. The fur trade is very big in Scandanavia and most of the activists seemed to be fighting this battle. In the late 1990s, Daniel told me that one of the three Flamingo Land dolphins had been moved to a dolphinarium in Italy. Two of the three had calved and one hadn't.
The dolphin was simply moved, as a mere utility, to a dolphinarium in Italy. No thought of the trauma caused by separating three dolphins, together most of their lives, since the fateful time they were abducted from their rightful home the ocean in the early 1980s.
I was contacted by Planet Verte, a small Belgium organisation run by a man and wife. Sandra wanted to organise a media event in Brussels by challenging the two dolphin show operators at Antwerp and Brugge to a debate on July 4th. I was to part of the antis. In end, on the day, the operators failed to show up and we were left with an attentive media to get our message across. I was also interviewed for Belgian television.
This event and the one in Sweden were helping to convince me that although we were dolphin 'showless' in the UK, I could be part of an effective opposition to the world-wide slave trade. Therefore I was further pleased when I was invited over to the USA in October 1995 to attend a gathering of activists opposed to captivity.
My initial impression, in a room of around a hundred attendees, was how inspiring it was. This was my first visit to the USA and I was yet to learn that American anti-captivity campaigners talk a good talk, but don't quite walk the walk. The main folk at the meeting were American and there were some familiar names that I knew of there. It came as a bit of a surprise to me that the main funding for the meeting had come from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in the UK. The name of Gadfly was introduced because apparently it is a small insect that troubles elephants, which was quite an apt name for us, the small guys, without any or much funding, troubling a billion dollar industry. There was a lot of talking at the meeting and in the evening the Humane Society of the USA hosted a dinner. I didn't attend as nobody had told me to pack evening wear! I looked in at the dinner-suited affair, quite a world apart to my grass roots campaigning background and low budgets. The meeting had been a disappointment and America was such a culture shock. After the meeting I flew out of the country a week earlier than I had planned.
The undoubted highlight of the visit was taking a boat trip from Friday Harbor. In the area orcas are visitors, and myself and three other attendees of the meeting were hoping to see them, we weren't lucky but what we had for a good few minutes were Dall porpoises bow riding the boat and that was a brilliant substitute.
If you aren't lucky enough to be in the sea with dolphins then the bow of a boat is a good second best place to be. In 2001, I spent a few days whale and dolphin watching from Tarifa in Spain. On one of the days, the sea was rough and it was looking as if there wasn't a dolphin in the Mediterranean. We went out for miles, not far from the Moroccan coast and on the return journey were about a mile or two from shore. I was resigned to being unlucky, when suddenly a big pod of striped dolphins, I estimated around a hundred, hit the bow and stayed with us for a few minutes! It was the most dolphins I had ever seen gathered together. It was a great trip because on other days I got a good look at the huge head of a sperm whale, saw pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins.
London Spring 1996; Gadfly
The only thing I can remember about this gathering which was attended by several Americans and Europeans was Rick Spill from the states walking around the room with a picture of Duke, ( a dolphin from Marineland, Canada), saying' No more Dukes' to each of us in an aggressive military style, I learnt he was a Vietnam vet. He was trying to entice us to attend the meeting in Canada later that year. In contrast to Spill, Ben White gave an inspiring speech about dolphins and the problems besetting mother earth. Ben was a great orator. It's amazing to contrast him, someone with an ability for oratory and passion for life, to past and present presidents of the USA, men alleged to be the most powerful on the planet. Ben was one of the few people I was prepared to look up to, he had released dolphins from the drive fishermen’s pens in Japan. When he died from Cancer some years later I was genuinely sad, the dolphins had lost a great friend too.
I was hoping for better things from this gathering than the one in Seattle and it was an improvement. For one thing Gadfly was to have a demonstration day as well as two days for planning. We were to protest at Marineland which was close to the famous Niagara falls. Marineland was owned by John Holer, by repute a volatile person, who seemed to take a personal dislike to protesters. Not just protesters either, he also assaulted a television interviewer whose questions he didn't like. Canada rang a bell in my mind as having a particular bad reputation in regard to dolphinaria. Marineland had a secret warehouse which housed a pool where surplus cetaceans were kept. An orca named Junior had gone straight from Icelandic seas to there, awaiting a buyer. Junior became psychotic and died in there. Duke, a bottlenose dolphin, was also in there and others who we didn't know by name. Cara Sands from a small organisation 'Friends of Dolphins' had somehow managed to talk her way in and secretly filmed Duke and Junior.
We got a good turn out for the protest. As well as Gadflyers from various countries there were local Canadian animal rights protesters. A group of these were to U lock themselves by the neck to the turnstiles where people entered, whilst the main body were on the road lining the entrance for cars, waving banners and handing out flyers. Ben White a well known activist and I were planning to enter the park and get on to the roof structure housing the dolphin pool and then abseil off the roof and hang in mid-air with a freedom banner. What if we managed to do this? With Holer's reputation for violence, what would they do, cut our ropes and drop us into a pool of killer whales? Perhaps!
Unfortunately because of the publicity given to our international gathering, they had tightened security and we couldn't get into the place. So we decided to climb up the trees on the edge of the entrance to either get on to the warehouse roof or roost high up in the trees with the banner. Just as we were about to get on to the lower branches, we were spotted and stopped by security. They marched us off their property to the public highway and police. One of the security men was built like the proverbial toilet wall, he and the police, without reason, suddenly flung Ben to the ground with his arms up his back and then hoisted him up and threw him into the back of a police van. Ben the shrewd campaigner he was, shouted "think about what you're doing don't go to Marineland". It was over in a flash, but the television camera crew got the film and it was aired that evening. They let me re-join the main demo. I figured the security and police knew Ben's face and wanted an arrest. Ben had to return some time later for a court case and was fined, in the best procedures of the justice systems, for doing absolutely nothing. In the meantime the real villains escaped, the police for assaulting Ben, and Marineland for assaulting dolphins. In the evening following Ben's arrest, a small number of us went to leaflet the cars exiting Marineland. It's always nice to be told whatever the language, to get a life or job. I even expected, being close to the USA border, to be called a communist as well! We hadn't been there long when a pick-up truck came towards us, I noticed it was heading straight for me and the driver was Holer. Because it was usual for this to happen at Flamingo Land with Gibb driving, I wasn't scared. The pick-up veered more towards Holly Penfound, who was standing opposite me, a few yards distance away. His wing mirror clipped her and she fell to ground. Holer just drove on into the park. We called an ambulance and the police and I gave a statement to them. Luckily Holly was more shaken than anything more serious. At a subsequent court case, Holer was found not guilty. Once again in the events of that day, the guilty party had gone unpunished.