We got the first look at Dolphinaris, the oceanarium under construction on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community land. It is a project that has a lot of opposition.
By the fall, visitors will be able to interact with dolphins in the first facility of its kind in Arizona.
"By having a place like Dolphinaris, we can expose people to what's going on in the world and hopefully create that energy, that empathy, that concern for our oceans," said Dr. Grey Stafford. Formerly with Wildlife World Zoo, he is now the general manager of Dolphinaris, located next to OdySea.
"We have one main indoor pool that can be subdivided as needed, particularly in the case of a nursing mom and calf," Stafford said. In addition, they have three outdoor pools.
He said the ten to twelve dolphins that will live in those pools were born in captivity, and a veterinarian will always be on hand.
Stafford added that if humans are going to interact with these creatures, he'd rather them do so in a controlled environment like Dolphinaris. But not everyone agrees.
"At whose expense is this entertainment and interaction occurring?" asked Courtney Vail with Whale and Dolphin Conservation. She said they are against dolphins in the desert, partly because of the harsh sunlight and dry conditions. She said she is also concerned about what she calls a lack of transparency, because it's on tribal land.
"That's why they were about how they did this and where they sited this development, knowing the public would not have any input," Vail said.
Stafford said they're subject to federal inspection, and a portion of their proceeds will go to conservation.
"I wish the wild was this romantic place, its not a Disney film, as much as I love Disney films, the wild is in big trouble," Stafford said.
Dolphinaris is set to open in late August or early September.
A protest is scheduled near the location for May 7.
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