In 1996, Makaiko the Dolphin was driven from his pod in Japan and forced into a life of captivity – hauled from venue to venue in painful conditions and starved in a cruel bid to teach him tricks.
Driven mad by years of loneliness, Makaiko took to smacking against his tank in a heartbreaking act of self-harm.
Snatched from his family in 1996, the poor bottlenose was starved and forced to perform for human crowds – but ran out his final years alone after being deemed “too heavy” and “foolish”.
He died a lonely death some ten years ago after being snatched from a life in the sea with his 80-strong family pod – that were either murdered or taken too. No one noticed he had got tangled in a net at the dolphinarium and quietly drowned.
Makaiko — meaning “inner strength” — was born in 1996 in the waters of Taiji, Japan, where she socialised with other pods and spent carefree days playing and roaming the wide-open spaces of the Pacific Ocean.
His former trainer Lorena Kya Lopez recently opened up on his heartbreaking tale in a grim warning about the wildlife trade, which “subjects millions of wild animals to suffering every day”.
Born in 1996, Makaiko roamed free with other pods, playing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Taiji, Japan.
One day, however, the sound of motorboats approaching the group left mothers desperately scrambling to gather up their young.
Hunters threw down heavy nets, scooping up dolphins to harvest for their meat or to sell into the tourist entertainment industry.
“While the water turned red from the blood of the dolphins who tried to escape or were killed, Makaiko was lifted out of the water, unable to move in the net,” Lopez told World Animal Protection.
“Makaiko had been captured. And so began the rest of his life in captivity.”
Alongside his sister Kumiko, the young animal was sold to a dolphinarium in Japan.
During transportation, he was painfully laid out on a stretcher and sprayed with water to keep his skin from drying out.
It was days before the pair were given any food. When they finally arrived at their temporary home, Makaiko was put in a small tank 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 were not as nutritious as the food they would normally get in the ocean, but at that point, it was better than nothing.”
The meals came with a catch – the trainers would only feed the dolphins if they obeyed orders to perform tricks.
Weak and disorientated, Makaiko learned to jump and pushed trainers around the tank for hours on end.
After 10 months, the siblings were suddenly moved into a pitch black transportation box. For over two days, they were unable to see anything.
Hauled out on to a stretcher, Makaiko was treated with a cream to stop his skin drying again, but he was left in agony – visibly bleeding.
Eventually, they landed at the Six Flags dolphin venue in Mexico, where Lopez first came across the distressed creatures.
Here, trainers continued to teach them the tricks they had struggled with in Japan, but Kumiko was depressed and sadly died soon after.
Makaiko was once again moved, this time to the island of Isla Mujeres.
While the tanks here were bigger, the dolphins were still given punishingly little food and Lopez took sympathy.
“I would always come back at night to give them some extra food so they wouldn’t be as hungry,” she said.
“The water was too warm, leading to skin irritations and fungus infections. The sun was too bright, causing skin burns.
“The dolphins were getting weaker each day.”
Concerned about the animals’ welfare, Lopez supported a rescue mission which failed.
The trainer was fired over her involvement and was only allowed to come back one more time to say goodbye to the dolphins, which was “one of the hardest days” of her life.
Distressed dolphin dumped for being ‘too fat’
For Makaiko, however, the stakes were even higher.
When it came time for his pod to be moved again, he was said to be a “foolish” performer who refused to listen to orders and was deemed too big and too heavy.
While the rest of the animals were transported to another island, he was left behind – increasingly lonely and depressed.
“He stayed alone for some time, without food, and with a growing sense of anxiety he started banging his head against the walls,” said Lopez.
“At some point, people would come in with dead fish, and to clean the water. This was the only time Makaiko wasn’t alone.”
Makaiko’s fortunes changes after an intervention by the Mexican government.
He was rescued and placed with a company called Aqua World, where Lopez was able to lead a rehabilitation process.
Yet the years of mistreatment had left a deep impression on the distressed dolphin, who continued to self-harm.
He was finally transported to Dolphin Discovery at Isla Mujeres, where he would see out the last four years of his life.
While he was able able to swim in the ocean once more, it was only in a confined area and he was required to perform for crowds again.
One day, following Tropical Storm Emily, tragedy struck.
“Nets had been put down due to the destruction and Makaiko got tangled up in them,” said Lopez.
“The people looking after them didn’t see any of this, so Makaiko died. He lay tangled up in the nets in the dolphin venue where he was exploited to entertain thousands of people.”
Image Credits: Rocio Cue
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