Everyone loves dolphins. And everyone loves going to see dolphins perform – jumping through hoops, flicking beach balls, having their teeth brushed. They seem to love it. But what happens if the dolphins don't feel like performing or won't learn the tricks? Ever heard of a `shake session'?
He handed me a long pole.
"What's this for?" I asked
Gerry's expression was dark. "There can only be one boss and it's time these two learned just who that is."
He directed me to the far side of pen, then started to shout instructions. "We're going to beat the water with the poles, scream and shout and generally frighten these two to death. Understand?"
I nodded numbly.
"Now let's wake them up!"
We both began to shout and beat the water with all our might. Duchess and Herb'e fled around the pen in blind terror, desperately seeking an escape; but of course there wasn't any. Their only solace was to take refuge in the middle of the pen where they cringed like two frightened children until the discipline was over.
Gerry's expression remained grim. "Give them half an hour to think about it, then we'll go straight back into training."...
There's more. Lots more. There's Bubbles, the Che Guevara of dolphins, who tries to lead the other performers into a revolution against the trainers, and meets a tragic end. There's Scouse, who gets blinded on his journey from ocean freedom in Florida to captivity in Yorkshire. There's Baby Dai, too young to be taken from the ocean but his records are faked.
There's dolphins being force fed all over the place. There's others getting sick because the dolphinarium owners won't cut into their profits by changing filthy water. And there's the hapless Bobby the sea lion, confined to a crate with the words of a previous trainer ringing in his ears `The only way to train a sea lion is with a club'…
The sad underbelly of the world of aquatic circuses is recounted through the memories of trainer David Capello, a fictional character in a `factional novel' - The Perfect Pair: The Enchanted Mirror - written by Salfordian brother and sister David and Tracy Holroyd.
"We were advised to put `faction' on it because of legal ramifications" says David "When we got our agent they said you must change all the names of people and all the places. But the places and people are real. The one thing we wouldn't allow to be changed was the names of the dolphins and the animals. This book is about the trainer's dedication and love of his dolphins."
Indeed, the heart wrenching incidents are just the shocking backdrop to David Capello's relationship with his two super dolphins, Duchess and Herb'e, who he `trains' via his `psychic' connection to the pair. He doesn't so much train them as plead and beg, without actually using any words. And, when they feel like it, the dolphins respond by working towards becoming the top performers in the country – the `perfect pair'.
While the story is set against the backdrop of money grubbing dolphin owners and their quest for profit over humanity, the book itself is never dour. It's no miserable Black Beauty-type tear-dropped tedium of horror. The Perfect Pair flies along with page turning pace, humour and a gripping tale that makes it almost impossible to put down.
Along the way, there's the comedy penguins, Stinky and Worse, and even Bobby the sea lion has his amusing moments - while the ménage et trios between super dolphins Duchess, Herb'e and their trainer David almost borders on sexual jealousy at some points.
All in all, The Perfect Pair is the perfect beach accessory, where the smell of the ocean and the crashing of the waves will provide a total 4-D experience.
Not surprisingly, the book is also incredibly controversial, casting a shadow over the whole notion of dolpinariums enjoyed by children and their families for generations.
"My dad used to take me to see the circus and it was a big thing to see the lions and the tigers but we've moved on now and changed our ethos" says co-author David Holroyd "What you have to remember is that a dolphinarium is an aquatic circus. That's what it is but the dolphinarium industry has really done a good job on publicity. They've managed to somehow alienate this from the public – a circus with performing lions and elephants is bad but somehow a dolpinarium is alright. They seem to have drawn a line where this is not a circus."
David's sister and co-author Tracy believes that this has happened because the dolphins always look happy…
"They've turned it into a Disney environment and the permanent smile of the dolphin, which is just a physical feature, makes people think they're smiling and they're happy; and they've managed to promote that and convince people. They say the smile is the dolphin's curse."
Indeed, nobody wants to believe that dolphins in captivity are sad. The story of getting the book into print is almost as riveting as the book itself – with what the authors call `the dolphin mafia' centre stage.
David and Tracy had agents who wouldn't touch the book, fearing the power of the big leisure companies which make £millions out of the shows. They've had screenwriters interested in turning the book into a film who have mysteriously pulled out of deals. Even the big animal welfare charities refused to endorse The Perfect Pair.
"We went to see a top agent and he said `This can't miss…on the subject matter alone this can't miss'" David recalls "We worked for a year to write two books and they took one look at it and nine weeks later they said `Take out all the bad parts, change the ending to make it happy and we'll consider it…otherwise forget it'."
Tracy takes up the story… "He said `You could ruin careers, you could get sued' but I replied that it wouldn't be the truth." she explains "He said `No-one wants to read about suicide dolphins and nervous breakdowns and force feeding…'. But it's the truth, we didn't want a Disney story..."
In the end, the authors self published the book under the Matador imprint, although they have now found an agent who has taken them on. But they never set out to be the centre of a political animal storm
"The idea of writing the book was never to preach" says David "It was to tell the story, so you relate to the dolphins, and by the time you finish reading you think `This isn't right'. That is what we wanted to achieve."
So why did the trainer, David Capello, stay rooted to the dolphin circus for so long?
"When he went to get the job forty years ago it was a fantastic job, it was like instant stardom" says David "You love your dolphins and no matter how bad it becomes you are tied to those dolphins emotionally. Would you abandon your dog in a park? You wouldn't. With your dolphins you live, eat, sleep and drink, dolphin. They were his life."
It was a life that, in the end, became too much and the legendary psychic trainer refused to go onto an aquatic stage again. The follow up book, says David, "is the real killer", based on distressing log books and records of dolphins that the industry thought had been destroyed years ago…
The Perfect Pair: The Enchanted Mirror
By David C Holroyd and Tracy J Holroyd
With a forward written by Coronation Street's William Roache
Available through Amazon, Waterstones and all good online bookshops.