The Dolphins of Arizona

Animal-welfare activists are criticizing an amusement facility scheduled to open in the state’s desert this summer.

Gleb Garanich / Reuters

Cetaceans near Scottsdale? It’s happening.

The second-largest theme park operator in Mexico, Ventura Entertainment, will open its first “dolphinarium” in the United States in July. The attraction, operated by Ventura’s subsidiary Dolphinaris, is located in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, and will provide similar swim-with-dolphins activities the company offers at its five locations in Mexico.

The facilities have drawn criticism from animal-welfare activists, who say the desert of a landlocked state is no place for dolphins, social and intelligent marine creatures that can swim up to 100 miles a day. Local protesters have organized a demonstration, “Empty the Tanks,” which will take place in Scottsdale next month. More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition against the “dolphinarium.” The petition says that Arizona summers, characterized by abundant sunshine and dry conditions, could negatively affect the dolphins’ health.

Dolphinaris explains on its website that “the well-being and the appropriate attention of the dolphins under our care is our absolute priority. We satisfy every physical and behavior need, including supervision of natural behavior of the species and reproduction programs.”

The attraction is located near OdySea, an indoor aquarium that opened last year and houses sharks and other ocean dwellers, but not whales and dolphins. “You need larger facilities for that and there’s a lot of controversy, and there’s no need,” OdySea CEO Amram Knishinsky said in 2014.

Public opinion of tourist attractions that feature marine creatures has increasingly soured since the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which investigated the captive orcas living in SeaWorld, the U.S. chain of marine mammal parks. Last month, SeaWorld announced it would end its orca-breeding programs and eventually cease its well-known performance shows.