Driven insane by years of loneliness, Makaiko the dolphin began to smack his shell in a heartbreaking act of self-harm.
Torn from his family in 1996, the poor bottlenose dolphin was starved and forced to perform in front of crowds – but he spent his final years alone after being deemed “too heavy” and “foolish”.
When Makaiko finally died about 10 years ago, no one noticed that he had become entangled in a net in a dolphinarium and quietly drowned.
Former trainer Lorena Kya Lopez recently opened his heartbreaking story with a dire warning about the wildlife trade that “harms millions of wildlife every day.”
Ocean turned red as the pod was hunted
Makaiko was born in 1996 and roamed free with other pods, playing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Taiji, Japan.
One day, however, the sound of motor boats approaching the group made the mothers desperate to collect their young.
Hunters cast heavy nets and scooped up dolphins to harvest for their meat or sell to the tourist entertainment industry.
“While the water was turning red from the blood of the dolphins that tried to escape or were killed, Makaiko was lifted out of the water and unable to move in the net,” said Lopez World animal protection.
“Makaiko was captured. And so began the rest of his life in captivity.”
Together with his sister Kumiko, the young animal was sold to a dolphinarium in Japan.
During the transport, he was painfully placed on a stretcher and sprayed with water to prevent his skin from drying out.
It was days before the couple got something to eat. When they finally got to their temporary home, Makaiko was put in a small tank that had been treated with chemicals to keep it clean.
“It wasn’t until they went to the surface and people approached them and started throwing dead fish at them that they had a chance to eat,” explained Lopez.
“The dead fish weren’t as nutritious as the food they would normally get in the ocean, but at that point it was better than nothing.”
There was a catch with meals – the trainers only fed the dolphins if they obeyed orders to perform tricks.
Weak and disoriented, Makaiko learned to jump and spent hours pushing trainers around in the tank.
Hauled from venue to venue in a pitch black box
After 10 months, the siblings were suddenly put in a pitch-black transport box. They couldn’t see anything for over two days.
Dragged onto a stretcher, Makaiko was treated with a cream to stop his skin from drying out, but he suffered from it – visibly bleeding.
Eventually they ended up at the Six Flags dolphin hangout in Mexico, where Lopez first encountered the desperate creatures.
Here the coaches continued to teach them the tricks they struggled with in Japan, but Kumiko was depressed and sadly passed away soon after.
Makaiko was relocated once again, this time to the island of Isla Mujeres.
While the tanks were bigger here, the dolphins were still getting punishingly little food and Lopez felt sorry for them.
“I always came back at night to give them some extra food so they weren’t so hungry,” she said.
“The water was too warm, which caused skin irritation and fungal infections. The sun was too bright, which caused skin burns.
“The dolphins were getting weaker every day.”
Out of concern for the welfare of the animals, Lopez supported a rescue mission that had failed.
The trainer was fired for her commitment and was only allowed to come back once to say goodbye to the dolphins, which was “one of the toughest days” of her life.
Worried dolphin dumped because of “too fat”
For Makaiko, however, the stakes were even higher.
When it came time to move his capsule again, he was considered a “stupid” performer who refused to listen to commands and was considered too big and heavy.
While the rest of the animals were transported to another island, he stayed behind – increasingly lonely and depressed.
“He was left alone for a while, with no food, and with increasing fear he started banging his head against the walls,” said Lopez.
“At some point people came with dead fish and to clean the water. This was the only time that Makaiko wasn’t alone. “
Makaiko’s fate changes after intervention by the Mexican government.
He was rescued and placed at a company called Aqua World, where Lopez was able to lead a rehabilitation process.
However, the years of abuse had left a deep impression on the desperate dolphin, who continued to harm himself.
He was eventually transported to Dolphin Discovery on Isla Mujeres, where he would experience the last four years of his life.
He could swim in the sea again, but only in a confined space and had to perform in front of an audience again.
One day, after Tropical Storm Emily, tragedy broke out.
“The destruction put nets down and Makaiko got tangled up in them,” Lopez said.
“The people who looked after them didn’t see any of it, so Makaiko died. He was lying in the nets in the dolphin hall, where he was being used to entertain thousands of people.”
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