A former trainer tells the heartbreaking story about Makaiko, the dolphin.A former trainer tells the heartbreaking story about Makaiko, the dolphin.

They were forced to perform tricks like jumping up and down, pushing others at their feet, and other training for hours. We had to touch them and get in the water for hours.

Early Years

Makiko, a bottlenose dolphin that means ‘inner strength,’ was born in Japan in 1996. His large family of around 80 members was his home.

They interacted with other pods and spent time exploring the Pacific Ocean’s coral reefs, taking in the abundant food and socializing with them.

They showed solidarity and cooperation, which helped them to be stronger and protected them. They would all work together to help a dolphin in need if they fell ill.

Everything was perfect.

During filming for our mini-documentary, Fooled By A Smile, Lorena Kya Lopez.

One dark day, while the dolphins were doing business, loud motorboats approached them.

They wanted to escape from these boats. Mothers were searching for their children. The pod leaders yelled at their families to flee.

During the chaos, some dolphins, including Makiko, were thrown around by something heavy. These were the hunting nets used to capture and sell dolphins as meat or other aspects of the cruel global wildlife trade. The trade also includes the sale of live dolphins to dolphinariums as tourist entertainment.

The water turned red due to the blood of dolphins that tried to escape or were killed. Makiko was lifted from the water and was unable to move in a net.

Makiko was captured. The rest of Makaiko’s life was spent in captivity.

The first days in captivity

Makiko was taken into custody and transported on a stretcher, which caused damage to his belly and fins. To prevent his skin from drying out, he was given water sprays. This must have been a frightening, stressful, and painful moment for dolphins.

He was then placed in a small tank after he arrived at his temporary home. This tank was not from the ocean and was treated with chemicals to keep it clean.

This place was very different from the ocean. It was very quiet, empty, and sterile.

Before Makaiko and Kumiko, his sibling got food for the first time, and it took them a few more days to adjust to the new location. They had been looking for food in the tank and swimming in it.

They could only eat when they reached the surface, where people started throwing dead fish at them. Although the dead fish weren’t as nutritious as the food they would normally find in the ocean; it was still better than nothing.

People who cared for them taught them tricks from the beginning, and they gave Makaiko and other dolphins food only if the behaviour was followed.

Transportation

Makiko spent 10 months at the Japanese dolphinarium. He and his sister were pulled from the water and put into the transport stretcher. After that, they were placed in a box for dolphin transportation.

They couldn’t see or hear anything in that box. They remained in the box without water for 56 hours. They were given a cream that prevented their skin from drying but also made it impossible for their skin to breathe.

Living in Mexico

Makaiko and Kumiko, Makaiko’s sister, arrived in Mexico. This was when I first saw them. They were placed in a smaller tank than the one in Japan. They also got to meet other dolphins that lived there: Miku (a two-year-old female who was very naughty and sweet) and Rocko (a young male who was strong, kind, and sturdy). They were both born in Japan in tanks and never saw the ocean.

At this dolphin show in Mexico City called Six Flags, they were taken care of by different people who also taught them tricks from Japan.

Dolphins at a tourist attraction (not Makaiko or any other dolphins mentioned here)

Makaiko as well as Kumiko were my caretakers. Kumiko will be a story for another time. For now, however, I’ll say that Kumiko was depressed upon her arrival in Mexico and didn’t live long.

After spending a while at Six Flags, Makaiko, along with Miku, and Rocko, was once more put in the transport stretcher and transported to Isla Mujeres. It took over 16 hours.

I cared for the dolphins as they moved from Mexico City to Isla Mujeres.

This journey took them to Isla Mujeres in the Caribbean, where they found larger tanks and warmer water.

Becoming an entertainer

Here they received the proper training to be dolphin entertainers.

They were forced to perform tricks like jumping up and down, pushing others at their feet, and other training for hours. We had to touch them and get in the water for hours.

The trainers were forced to push the dolphins with their noses. They lifted us onto their dorsal fins and even jumped over our heads. As in Japan, the dolphins would be denied food if they didn’t follow instructions.

I would always return at night to feed them extra food so they wouldn’t feel as hungry.

The water was too hot, causing skin irritations and fungus infection. The sun’s too bright rays caused skin burns.