The large, circular, blue building on Soi Palai, Chalong, was being fitted out with seats the day The Phuket News visited it. The pool in the centre of the tiered ring of seats was being filled with seats. Fans and lights are already fitted around the auditorium and the circular pool was being filled with trucked-in water.
A large mural facing the main entrance shows a tall ship in full sail against a backdrop that might be Phang Nga Bay.
No one would talk to the reporters, though they were able to speak on the phone with the Thai partner in the venture. But she declined to talk about details, adding that she could be more forthcoming next month.
The reporters also spoke on the phone with a man who gave his name only as Vladimir. Speaking in Russian, he said that he, too, was not yet ready to say when the building would open, or even what it would be used for.
Asked whether animals would be involved, he said – after a long pause – “You will see later.”
Sichon Meanglean, Acting Director of Engineering at Chalong Municipality, said, “Yes, I know about the dolphin show building on Soi Parlai Road. They started building at the beginning of this year. It is supposed to be finished in two months.
“They have followed all the processes to erect a legal entertainment building. We have checked and approved everything already.”
Local campaigners and Sea Shepherd are, however, dead set against the show. They also know that the owners will require a permit from the Fisheries Department. An application has been made to the local Fisheries office, which has passed it on to Bangkok.
Sea Shepherd has already written an open letter to the “Phuket Tourism Board” (presumably the Tourism Authority od Thailand) and the Fisheries Department. “Stop The Nemo Dolphinarium,” the message, also posted on Facebook, urges the two offices to oppose the show by joining an online vote against it.
It suggests wording for people to send to the two organisations:
“It saddens me to hear that, rather than continue to strive and develop towards a sustainable and responsible future, Phuket is taking a step backwards by allowing a dolphin park (prison) to open on the island.
“At a time when the rest of the world is moving away from holding dolphins in captivity, it will be a major set back for Phuket and Thailand if you allow this venue to open. This will look very bad in the eyes of the international community.”
It goes on too assert that some of the dolphins are coming from Ukraine but were originally captured off the Japanese fishing village of Taiji, site of an infamous annual slaughter of dolphins.
“Phuket should not have any connection with the slaughter in Taiji or the captive dolphin industry. Instead Phuket should take the opportunity to allow visitors the unique chance to experience these beautiful animals in the wild, that frequent the waters around Phuket!”
Also leading the opposition is eco-campaigner Edwin Wiek, who was instrumental in stopping another dolphin show being launched in 2011, also in Chalong.
Local academics have also backed the call to stop the show, or at least test public opinion.
Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, the Chief of the Marine Endangered Species Unit at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, said that he has no power to do anything unless ordered to do so from Bangkok.
But, he added that he personally did not support the dolphinarium at all and suggested that a social media campaign and, on the ground, social pressure, be applied to stop the show from going ahead.
Chantinee Boonchai, lecturer in technology and environment at the Prince of Songkla University Phuket Campus, told The Phuket News, “We need more information to take action on this. We need to find out whether the animals will come from the wild or whether they were raised in captivity.
“The Dean has offered to host a discussion on this matter at the university but we will need to get the right people here. So if you all want to help checking with people who are interested and have experience in this topic about possibility of coming to discuss this at PSU, that will be great.”
The social media campaign is already well under way, with a petition launched by Sea Shepherd having passed 2,000 signatures, the issue is gaining prominence on Facebook and local divers are banding together to oppose the show.
While the previous attempt to set up a show was stopped when it was in the planning stage, resulting in minimal pain for the investor, the Soi Parlai building is almost complete so the investors have a great deal more at stake.
Attempts to reach Vladimir for further comment on the opposition to the show were fruitless, though his reticence in the initial conversation with The Phuket News suggests that he is perhaps aware the facility may be controversial.