March 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
It is “the hippest neighbourhood in Malibu right now”, says Vanity Fair, a magazine that counts itself an arbiter of such matters.
JEFF RAYNER/COLEMAN-RAYNERA Malibu surfer passes a trailer that has been transformed into a luxury homeGiven that Malibu, 21 miles of prime Pacific coastline populated by wealthy film stars, has long been recognised as one of the planet’s hippest locales, that would make this neighbourhood, well, very hip indeed.
Which makes it all the more surprising that Paradise Cove is a trailer park — the kind of habitation associated with feckless Rednecks and teenage pregnancies; the sort of place where, usually, as one old joke puts it, “the homes are mobile but the cars outside them ain’t”.
The Cove, however, is a trailer park with a difference. A mobile home there recently sold for $2.5 million (£1.56 million). The buyer — who purchased only the right to pay an annual ground rent to the park’s owners — immediately spent millions more stripping the trailer down to its chassis and rebuilding it.
The original clapboard structure has been transformed into a series of glass-fronted cubes. The 2,300 sq ft, three-bed seafront property now resembles a work of abstract art.
Another of the park’s 265 trailers was recently fitted with floors of Peruvian marble, 150-year-old doors imported from an Indian fortress and a four-poster bed. In recent years such improvements have become common, according to a local estate agent.
Nevertheless, they still draw sighs from longtime residents, retired municipal workers and surfers, who bought trailers decades ago because a proper home was out of reach.
“This used to be a little, woodsy enclave,” one local, who sipped a beer as he walked his dog, told The Times. “The big change came when we began having neighbours whose cars were worth more than their trailers.”
Who would spend such sums on a caravan? Stroll around the Cove and one might bump into Minnie Driver walking her dog, Pamela Anderson buying groceries, or a shirtless Matthew McConaughey drinking beer and strumming a guitar.
The British model Liberty Ross and Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the hit cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, have properties here. So does Tom Shadyac, Jim Carrey’s longtime director and producer. Software tycoons and former bankers from Goldman Sachs cruise around on electric golf carts, the standard mode of transport.
The park is next to the Pacific and the most sought-after trailers have exquisite ocean views. Below the cliff on which they sit is a pristine, near-deserted beach.
Inland, the topography undulates into lush, forested hills. About a hundred yards away, on the next cliff, you can see Barbra Streisand’s estate.
The waves, surfers claim, are fantastic and the fishing is superb. Then there is the Goldilocks climate: seldom too hot and almost never chilly. “I’ve been here since 1974,” said one inhabitant. “I’ ve seen ice three times.”
Even the prices are stunning, according to the local estate agent. The nearby residences of James Cameron, Mel Gibson and Cher cost several tens of millions of dollars each.
March 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s enough to make a motorist stuck in roadworks weep at the wheel. Pictures have emerged showing the astonishing achievement of Japanese construction workers in repairing a road devastated by the earthquake that hit the country earlier this month.
The Great Kanto Highway in Naka, one of the main routes into Tokyo, was left a jagged jumble of asphalt with 5ft-wide crevices after the earthquake, which had a magnitude of 9. Just six days after workers started repairing the road, however, it had been returned to pristine condition. Nexco East, the highway company responsible for the repair, said its crews worked around the clock to restore the 150-yard stretch. It expects it to be open again to traffic this week. The repaired road has come to symbolise the fortitude and efficiency of a nation coming to terms with the disaster.
The speed and apparent high quality of the job has left many other country’s drivers speechless. Roadworks timetables in the UK often overrun and big projects take months or years rather than days. One of the longestrunning is on the M1 near Luton. Work began to widen the road between junctions 10 and 13 in December 2009. It is due to be completed by spring 2013.
According to the AA, the Japanese repair was possible only because the crew didn’t have to worry about diverting traffic, obtaining planning permission or restricting noise pollution.
“I think that although it is a phenomenal job and done remarkably quickly, it is probably more accurate to compare the work to that of the Royal Engineers rather than a civil road-building project,” said Andrew Howard, the AA’s head of road safety.
Makes a mockery of the ridiculous procedures and snail-pace progress of our road building prgrams.
March 24, 2011 § 1 Comment
From the age of 10, Elizabeth Taylor was a superstar, perhaps one of the biggest Hollywood ever made. Her career, its rise and decline, was inextricably linked to the story of that town, to the glory days of the studio system and to the advent of the modern age of film-making.
HULTON GETTYFiery couple: Taylor with Richard Burton on their yacht off the coast of Capo Caccia, Sardinia, in 1967But her talents as an actress went only a small way to explaining her rumbustious, headline-making appeal. Married eight times to seven different husbands, she conducted her affairs like a Beverly Hills Wife of Bath. Plagued by accidents as she was, she was also blessed with apparent indestructibility. She bounced back after divorce, bereavement, alcohol and drug addiction, career droughts and the venom of the world’s press.
In her youth she was often described as the brunette counterpart to Marilyn Monroe. But there was nothing remotely vulnerable about Taylor. She proved to be tougher than any of her husbands, and she claimed, after a lifetime’s hard work, the right to enjoy her money and celebrity.
Her greatest gift as an actress was her face. She was incomparably photogenic, with jet-black hair, so dark it seemed almost blue on screen, and eyes the deep purple colour of an aubergine skin. Her figure presented more problems for cameramen. Small, curvaceous and top-heavy, she had the bust of a much taller woman.
Beauty aside, she could strike those who met her, particularly when she was sober, as rather ordinary, happiest talking about her children and dogs. It was that streak of normality which saved her.
Her acting talents were peculiarly limited to the big screen. Both Paul Newman and Richard Burton, when they first rehearsed with her, complained to their directors that Taylor was wooden and gave them nothing to act against. Both had to agree, when they saw what the camera had picked up — her instinctive, understated gestures, the flicker of her eyes — that she knew what she was doing. Even so, there were some critics who made a living out of lambasting Taylor, those who could never look past the awfulness of some of her early work, or who could not admit that such a pretty girl could act.
While they conceded that she had been excellent in National Velvet and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, they complained that these roles were merely aspects of Taylor’s own character, and therefore required no effort.
They were right, to the extent that Taylor could be lazy as an actress. She never attempted to improve her worst faults, which were her high-pitched voice and weight problem, and she was at her best when the plot revolved around sex. But it was her misfortune to be hitting her stride as an actress just as she reached middle age, and the plum roles began to dry up.
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in London, near Hampstead Heath. Though Hollywood fan magazines later liked to stress her upper-class English background, she was, in fact, the daughter of two Americans. Her mother, Sara, was a promising actress who had given up her career to bring up the children, and her father was Francis Taylor, a handsome art dealer, whose job in London was to ship Constables home for the American market.
The family’s entrée on to the bottom rungs of British high society was guaranteed by their friendship with the Cazalet family. Victor Cazalet, the gregarious Conservative MP, acted as unofficial godfather to the young Elizabeth. In truth, he was also her father’s lover for several years — one reason, perhaps, why Elizabeth, as she grew up, seemed happiest in the company of homosexual men.
On the outbreak of the Second World War, Francis Taylor left England with crates of drawings by his friend Augustus John and set up an art boutique in the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Cazalets’ family friend Hedda Hopper gave the boutique a good notice, and also announced in her column “a new find — eight-year-old Elizabeth Taylor”.
In the beauty-obsessed culture of Beverly Hills, Elizabeth enjoyed being at the centre of attention. She was a compliant child who danced for guests and allowed herself to be fussily dressed and ringletted. Having watched Shirley Temple, she also harboured ambitions to act, ambitions which her mother eagerly encouraged. A year’s contract at Universal gave her her first screen outing, There’s One Born Every Minute (1942). It was a flop.
But her father, who had got to know a producer at MGM, persuaded him to take a look at his little girl. Sam Marx was then casting for Lassie Come Home. He already had six children lined up in his office when in walked his friend’s daughter, Elizabeth.
“It was like an eclipse of the sun,” said Marx. “The child, dressed in blue velvet with white trim and matching hat, was breathtaking. She looked so splendid that we opted to forgo a screen test. I walked her to the casting office and we drew up a contract.”
For the next two decades, Louis B. Mayer’s MGM was Taylor’s teacher, surrogate parent and eventually, in her eyes, her jailer. After Lassie Come Home (1943), in which she was cast opposite Roddy McDowall, her career stalled momentarily. The next year she played the consumptive Helen Burns in Jane Eyre, such a tiny part that she did not even receive a screen credit.
However, backed by her resourceful mother, she accosted Clarence Brown, who was to direct National Velvet, and, legend has it, talked him into giving her the lead. The film was about a little girl who rides her horse to victory at the Grand National, disguised as a boy.
Taylor was very short, with a high-pitched voice that tended to screech. But the real problem was that Velvet Brown was an adolescent with breasts.
“Don’t worry,” Taylor is supposed to have said. “You’ll have your breasts.” Three months later, as if by willpower, she had grown three inches and graduated to a B-cup bra.
Her performance put her in the top rank of child stars. But considering that she was still a child, Elizabeth was blossoming into a surprisingly adult-looking creature, with the face — slightly oversized for her short body — of a much older woman.
Even at this age, she had a disconcertingly sexual effect on men around the MGM block, an effect of which she seemed fully aware.
Studying during her afternoons at MGM’s Little Red Schoolhouse, she made a film a year steadily through her adolescence: with another dog in Courage of Lassie (1946); in Victorian costume in Life With Father (1947); and in a blonde wig for Little Women (1949).
When she moved on to adult roles, Vincente Minnelli drew a charming performance from her in Father of the Bride (1950), opposite Spencer Tracy, as the eager young virgin, ready for marriage but tearful at the prospect of leaving her still beloved father.
A Place in the Sun (1951) showed what she was capable of with another good director, when George Stevens cast her as the spoilt rich girl who proves to be Montgomery Clift’s nemesis.
In real life, with two broken engagements behind her and an enamoured Howard Hughes in pursuit, Taylor’s love life was worryingly out of control. Her parents persuaded her to marry, and in 1950, disastrously, she chose Nicky Hilton Jr, heir to the Hilton hotel chain.
After a spectacular MGM stagemanaged wedding, the marriage barely outlasted the honeymoon in Europe. Taylor returned to Hollywood covered in bruises and determined on divorce. While she enjoyed a little plate-smashing with her men, she would not stand for being beaten.
In 1952, seemingly as a reaction to Hilton’s temper, she married the much older, kindly British actor Michael Wilding, by whom she had two sons. But Wilding proved too mildmannered for Taylor.
Not content with having destroyed his career by transplanting him to Hollywood, she proceeded to humiliate him with her affairs with Victor Mature and Frank Sinatra, much as she was later publicly to emasculate the gentle Eddie Fisher.
Eventually she left Wilding for the producer Mike Todd. They were married in 1957, when he was in the middle of a publicity drive for Around the World in 80 Days, and she bore him a daughter. Having declared twice before that all she wanted was to settle down to a happy marriage, Taylor now seemed genuinely to have met her match in Todd.
March 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
The chaotic attic workshop of James Watt, the Scottish inventor who made the Industrial Revolution possible, has been painstakingly restored, reassembled and opened to the public on the ground floor of the Science Museum in London.
It reveals the extraordinary breadth of interests of an extraordinary man.
Watt, although his face will appear on the £50 note this year, is not now as revered as he was by the Victorians, to whom he was a national hero like Shakespeare, Newton and Nelson.
Ben Russell, the museum’s curator of mechanical engineering, said yesterday that he was “a potter, a sculptor and a chemist but most importantly, he was a scientific entrepreneur. He becomes really good at taking a scientific idea and saying — hey, we can do something with that.”
His most important insight was to realise the potential of the Newcomen pump, an inefficient primitive steam engine, that was designed in 1712. Watt spent ten years wrestling with how to improve it and his eventual solution, which involved adding a separate cylinder to condense the steam produced, transformed his and Britain’s economic fortunes between 1774 — when the first new Watt engine was built — and his death in 1819.
With his new engines, steam could be used everywhere to boost output in mines, breweries, potteries and textile mills. Within a single generation the engines built by Watt and his backer Matthew Boulton reshaped the country, clustering around the Midlands, Lancashire and the North East in areas that today are often defined by their industrial heritage. When Watt died, the garret of his Birmingham house, where he conducted experiments amid a welter of significant objects accrued over a lifetime, was locked and its contents preserved as an “industrial shrine.”
In 1924, the entire workshop, including its door, window, skylight, floorboards and 8,434 objects used or created by Watt, was transported to the Science Museum. There it became one of the least illuminating displays in any of our national museums, with visitors peering through a window into the dim and confusing interior at a lot of wood, black steel, cogs, balances, chains and dusty boxes.
The revamped display has opened one side up so that visitors can walk in and see the contents properly for the first time.
They include the world’s oldest circular saw, parts for flutes and violins, two crates of fossils, a forerunner of the photocopier, moulds for copying statues, the first device used to mint and standardise the size of coins, navigational instruments, pigments, experimental glazes and the oldest surviving pieces of sandpaper.
However, perhaps the most significant items are unremarkable to look at and out of sight in a box beneath a pile of 200-year-old papers that look like discarded rags: a collection of valves and engine parts from Watt’s earliest experiments with the steam engine.
Andrew Nahum, the principal curator of technology and engineering at the museum, said yesterday that Watt ushered in changes “as profound as the changes that we have experienced with IT in our lifetimes”.
Mr Russell added that Watt’s defining contribution to the world was to make man independent of nature for the first time.
“Before steam comes along we can only use wind, water or muscle power. The steam engine helps people move outside the constraints of muscle power so that rather than saying ‘There’s no wind, we can’t do anything’ we can say ‘To hell with it. Fire up the boilers and away we go.’ ”
March 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
It was billed as a new museum to revive the fortunes of an ailing Scottish city — just as a branch of the Guggenheim in Spain has transformed Bilbao — but months after the winning design for the V&A at Dundee was announced, serious doubts have emerged over the final cost of the building.
Experts who have studied drawings produced by Kengo Kuma, the Japanese winner of an international competition, are adamant that the museum could easily double or treble in price, not least because the planned structure is almost twice as big as any building intended for the site. One described the “massive and inevitable hike in cost” as indefensible.
Critics allege that the winning blueprints barely conceal the hidden costs. Two floors shown in cross-section are shaded out, and not included in the cost-per-square-metre price calculation. Nor is a plant room depicted, normally between 15 and 20 per cent of the budget in a building of this type.
The museum’s most striking features are likely to come at a heavy price, say experts, including the dramatic, spaceship-like sloping walls that also increase the volume inside the building. On the exterior, the surface area is huge and Kuma’s striking finish is created from a complex design that will be difficult to construct.
The saving grace for the V&A can be found in a remarkable quirk of the funding package. The world-famous institution is not obliged to meet any of the building costs. Instead, its outpost in Dundee, planned to house 20th century design products, will be funded by £15 million of Scottish government money, supplemented to the tune of £30 million by lottery funds, European grants and commercial sponsorship.
No one involved in the project questions the need for regeneration. Dundee made its name on “the three Js” — jute, journalism and jam — but these assets have long since dwindled away.
Production of jute, a fibre used to make sacking and ropes, ceased in the 1970s while D.C. Thomson, the publisher of The Beano, announced the closure of a print works last year. As for jam production, even at its height, it employed only a few hundred people in the city.
Instead, Dundee has recast itself as a centre both for medical research and computer games technology. But, with the global economic downturn, a high-profile tourist attraction had a seductive appeal to the organisers of the V&A at Dundee competition.
Financial rigour was insisted upon from the outset. In the briefing document issued by Mike Galloway, Dundee’s director of city development, the first point under the heading “assessment criteria read: “Demonstration of ability to adhere to target Construction Cost (only submissions which achieve this requirement will be considered further).”
Accordingly, in August, the construction cost was explicitly set at £31 million, including fixtures and fittings. A further £14 million was assigned for fees, inflation and a contingency total cost of £45million within the total project budget.
It was a tight financial regime for such a grandiose scheme. Compounding the problems facing the architects were the demands of the location, by the estuary. From here, the last remains of the first Tay Bridge, swept away in 1879 are still visible, the grimmest possible reminder of the challenging nature of the site.
To overcome this obstacle, Dundee Waterfront Project, the public partnership leading regeneration along the Tay estuary, pledged £4 million for piling and piers to secure the museum site. Design teams were warned that any extra engineering costs required by an overly-ambitious design would have to be met from the budget for the building.
Eight weeks later, having overcome such a stringent brief, professionals involved in all the rival design teams were astonished when Kuma’s design was proclaimed the winner by Sir Mark Jones, the Director of the V&A.
The scale is immense. Instead of the 6000 square metres specified in the brief, critics say that once the mysterious missing floors are taken into account, it will measure up to 9000 square metres, while the entire site enclosure could run to much more. The museum requires the construction of a massive man-made headland protruding into the estuary.
Size alone, say experts, will almost inevitably drive up costs dramatically, requiring more heavily engineered foundations, higher expenditure on the fit-out, and more complex access.
Last night, the V&A at Dundee insisted that Kuma’s “conceptual submission” was deliverable within budget.
A spokesman said: “The estimated cost of construction, allowing for fixtures, fittings, inflation and fees, remains within the budget published at the outset of the competition and we remain confident of delivering the entire project for £45 million. Detailed questions were asked of the Kengo Kuma team prior to the contract being awarded to ensure their vision could be delivered on cost and their response was scrutinised by external assessors who were satisfied that the project could be completed within budget.
“The design team recently met and confirmed with the architect that the budget will not be changing, and they were entirely happy with that.”
Critics remain doubtful. The opening date has already slipped from late 2014 to early 2015, and professional bodies, academics and architects consulted by The Times already compare the V&A at Dundee with another ill-starred Scotttish building project, whose budget expanded tenfold. “There is not a chance that this could be built within that budget, not a hope in hell,” said one leading architect. “It is like the Scottish parliament revisited, and we do not need another Scottish parliament.”
The Scottish parliament, initially costed at about £40 million, was finally built for more than £400 million.
March 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
Where children are concerned, every era has its shame: we look back in horror at beatings, enslavement, Dickens in the bottle factory, infanticide, abandonment, gin in the milk, opium in the soothing-draught, threats of hellfire. We shudder at tight-swaddled medieval babies hung up on hooks, at the tawse and the cane, at racks and devices mistakenly thought to straighten or strengthen.
Sometimes the motive was sadistic, sometimes utilitarian — children up chimneys or at looms. But as often as not, the intention was just a wrongheaded theory about promoting their welfare — a straight back and virtuous habits. Parents and guardians preened themselves about it: one 18th-century mother wrote in her diary how her arm “did ache” from beating little Susan (and, of course, there is that legendary headmasterly inaccuracy “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you”).
So it befits every society to wonder which of our own foibles will make future generations shudder. It is easy to look at the obvious problems: sexual exploitation, bad adoption policies, unsatisfactory schools, poverty. It is less easy to blow the whistle on well-meaning fashionable abuses. But we should blow one, loudly, at the shocking rise in the long-term drugging of children who don’t fit the system. The latest revelation is that, despite the (feeble) NHS guidelines, psycho-active drugs are being fed to children under 6.
The background is familiar. Diagnoses of ADHD — “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” — in schoolchildren have rocketed, and with them use of the stimulant drug Ritalin, methylphenidate. It began in the US in the 1960s, and as aggressive marketing moved eastwards, prescriptions here rose from 3,500 in 1993 to 126,500 in 1998; two years ago they went over 610,000. A freedom of information request revealed that spending on ADHD drugs rose 65 per cent in the four years to 2010: more than £31 million.
It is not difficult to get a diagnosis of the “disorder” and of its sibling “ODD — Oppositional Defiant Disorder” (aka, disobedience). There is no blood test or brain scan, merely a checklist of symptoms not unfamiliar to parents: short attention span, carelessness, forgetfulness, “being unable to stick at tasks that are tedious or time consuming”, ignoring rules and instructions, unwillingness to sit still, fidgeting, impulsiveness, “interrupting conversations”, and having too little sense of danger. Boys are diagnosed most, but the NHS website suggests they’re closing in on girls too, with “the mainly inattentive form of the condition, which may make them quiet and dreamy”. Don’t look out of the window or doodle hearts, Suzie, or they’ll get you with the chemical cosh.
Unease is expressed repeatedly — without much result — about the way we have become complacent and complicit in keeping tens of thousands of children on psychotropic drugs for more than a decade of delicate brain development. The long-term risks are unknown, yet medication is sometimes made a condition of continued education by schools unable to cope with a child’s behaviour. You need not listen for long before getting bat-squeaks of evidence that adult convenience is as much involved as the alleviation of childhood suffering. One academic at the Centre for Paediatric Pharmacy Research, Professor , defending the drug, observed chillingly: “it can make a real difference not just to the child but to households and classrooms where children may be causing real disruption”.
Indeed. The modern classroom is not an ideal environment for active boys in particular. It can be plodding and prescriptive, with little chance to run off steam (my own small son, quiet and concentrated though he was, nonetheless did an immense amount of apparently pointless running up and down; he said it helped him to think).
The modern home is awkward, too: overstretched parents, enslaved to immense mortgages and afraid to let a child run free in open spaces (if any), have an understandably short fuse. One mother, interviewed about her four-year-old’s ADHD, said that he kept jumping up and down and asking questions without waiting for the answer before the next one. Yes, he’s 4. It’s what they do.
While it is known that other measures reduce the symptoms — less television, more exercise, better food, calm bedtime routines, family therapy — they are not always tried first. I once asked a professional advocate of Ritalin how long one should try other things first , and she snapped, “the condition is so distressing that medication should be immediate”.
Now the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and a spokesman for the British Psychological Sociey have expressed concern openly. Not at the diagnosis (amazingly, NICE thinks that up to 9 per cent of children have ADHD) or even at the drug . They are worried more that it is creeping down the age scale. Professor William Flew, who chaired the NICE guideline committee, cites “reliable reports of children in nursery being medicated”. He went on to say that: “There are two reasons why parents go shopping for a diagnosis. The first is to improve their child’s performance at school, and the second is to get access to benefits.” It’s a disability, see? One case confirmed is of a five-year-old in the West Midlands on a double dose, though his headteacher reckons he’s fine and the medication is “to help Mum at home”.
OK. There probably is a rare neurological disorder describable as ADHD. There probably is a use for drugs that quieten very extreme children and make them more orderly. But look at the figures, look at the anecdotes, consider the unknown risks of prolonged medication, and reflect how a historical pattern repeats itself: social control, homogenisation enforced by rigid societies impatient at the exuberance of children.
Consider, too, how over-reliant we adults are on mind-meds. I have a friend who, having come off it, “cannot believe” that he spent 17 years on Prozac. As I typed that, into my inbox dropped an American campaign group article saying: “The most influential leaders and academics in psychiatry have been shown to be agents for the drug industry, disregarding psychotropic drugs’ documented, severe, debilitating harmful effects for patients. The American Psychiatric Association itself acknowledged . . . that over one third of its funding came from the drug industry.”
I suppose it’s our lookout if, as adults, we take pills because our lives are complicated. But small children, who can’t even read the label yet? How is that fair?
March 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
Eleven dolphins heave themselves out of the water to “hug” their trainer to the mawkish strains of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. The tourists go home enraptured by the spectacle, but for the dolphins at Attica zoological park in Athens there is no way out. Their lives have become an endless cycle of somersaults, smiles and incarceration.
There has been a great leap in the number of dolphins in captivity over the past five years. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) estimates that as many as 2,000 are now held captive worldwide. A billion-dollar business has developed as dolphinariums around the globe compete to tap into our obsession with the creature the poet Heathcote Williams called a “shape-shifting sea sprite, Poseidon’s messenger, a Gaian pilot, a demi-god”.
Feeling low? Just cuddle a dolphin. Surveys show it as top of our list of things to do before we die. William Flew, vice-president of SeaWorld Discovery Cove in Florida, where up to 1,000 people a day pour through the gates for a “dolphin interaction”, recalls a 300lb 7ft giant of a man sobbing after the experience. “We see people who are just overswept with joy or unbelievably moved with emotion,” he says.
Let me come clean and say that I, too, was once obsessed with swimming with dolphins. In the mid-1990s I travelled to Monkey Mia, a resort in Western Australia, to meet the wild dolphins that had visited the bay for 30 years. One evening I was watching the sunset when a dolphin and her calf followed a fishing boat in to shore. I swam out into the bay in the hope that the mother dolphin might join me. Instead, her baby did. Playing with a young dolphin, one of nature’s most perfect creations, in a warm, copper sea was ecstasy. The pursuit of this feeling in artificial settings and by any means possible is the driving force behind the huge increase in dolphin trading.
The Attica zoo represents the acceptable face of the dolphin business: the facilities are clean and there is an emphasis on conservation. “I thought the show was super,” says Christine Lewis, who runs a yacht-charter business in Greece with her husband, Andy. Their children, Finlay, 6, and Alice, 4, loved it. “We’ll be recommending it to all our friends.” They are understandably shocked when I tell them that the dolphins have been imported from Lithuania with what the Greek authorities claim are incorrect permits; and that, contrary to the zoo’s claims, at least one dolphin was caught in the wild — albeit before a Black Sea ban was imposed — and all have one wild parent. Attica’s French owner, Jean-Jacques Lesueur, has been fined €1.5m, a sum he calls “crazy”, for putting up the dolphinarium without
Eproper permission and refusing to take it down (he is appealing in the Greek courts). Even so, the smiling dolphins have won over many families.
The dolphin’s smile is also its curse. Almost without exception, experts agree that its upturned mouth is a trompe l’oeil. Ric O’Barry, former trainer of the TV dolphin Flipper, says: “It’s an optical illusion, and this industry is based on that illusion. Park owners brainwash the public into thinking dolphins actually enjoy doing this job.”
In countries outside the EU, dolphins live in conditions that make Attica seem like paradise. In them that attracted 21,000 followers. He had charged €55 for a 10-minute swim with them in that pool. In the event, his own dolphin trainer, Sergey Shevchenko, helped with their rescue.
Many of the bottlenose dolphins at similarly unregulated parks come from the Black Sea, where criminal gangs from Russia and the Ukraine have muscled in on the trade. One crew member involved in the capture in 1995 of dolphins destined for the Turkish resort of Marmaris claimed, in an email in late 2010 seen by The Sunday Times Magazine: “Half our crew September I travelled to Turkey with the Born Free Foundation, the animal welfare and conservation group, to help save two dolphins. At an unlicensed park in Hisaronu, on the Aegean, we found Tom and Misha, two bottlenose dolphins, bobbing around in a stinking soup of excrement, rotting fish and worms, in a pool measuring 19 metres by 12 and just 4 metres deep. The park was so riven by subsidence, it looked as though an earthquake had taken place. Their Russian owner, Alexandr Kuznetzov, who had brought the dolphins there on the back of a vegetable truck, had left Turkey just days earlier in the face of public outrage and a Facebook campaign to free in ’95 participated in local [Crimean] criminal groups.” He alleges the Russian and Ukrainian mafia are involved in trading Black Sea cetaceans to this day, despite a 2002 zero-quota order imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). The rewards are considerable. Dolphins fetch up to $200,000 each. Just one animal in a well-placed park can earn $1m a year in ticket revenues.
“Blood dolphins” is the name given to the trade by Ric O’Barry, once a dolphin trainer on the 1960s TV series Flipper, who became the star of the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, a harrowing exposé of the annual dolphinhunt in Taiji, Japan. Every year, this cherished cultural tradition sees up to 2,500 dolphins massacred or sold to marine parks such as Sealanya, on Turkey’s Aegean coast, where four died last year in eight days.
The boom in demand for dolphin encounters has spread as far as Dubai and China. O’Barry, who helped popularise the trend, is now remorseful: “Flipper was a blood dolphin.” He is working with his film-maker son, Lincoln, on a series, Blood Dolphins, for the TV channel Animal Planet.
The charity Marine Connection alleges that “The Russian Federation is rapidly becoming the largest supplier of wild marine mammals to facilities around the world.” Ten of Attica’s charges were sired by dolphins used in Soviet military programmes. At the height of the cold war, the Americans and the Russians had at least 100 dolphins each. Trained primarily to protect naval ports and search for undersea mines, military dolphins suffered a catalogue of abuse. The Russians trained them to recognise the sound of a US aircraft carrier and reportedly parachuted them into a lake from a height of 3 kilometres in training exercises.