A plan to open a $20 million dolphin park in the Arizona desert has drawn the ire of environmentalists and sparked a massive online petition.
Dolphinaris, a Mexico-based wildlife parks chain, announced plans to open a U.S. outpost earlier this year. If opened, guests could swim with and ride up to a dozen of the marine mammals living in a million gallon tank near Phoenix -- hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean.
More than 100,000 people have signed the online petition urging the dolphinarium's parent company, Ventura Entertainment, to abandon the plans, even though construction is due to be completed by the end of the summer.
"Dolphins -- as oceangoing mammals -- are NOT meant to spend their precious lives in the desert," the petition reads.
However, TakePart notes the park is being built on Native American tribal land, which has different permitting laws than U.S.-based project like SeaWorld.
A manager attached to the project dismissed claims that the animals would be mistreated, insisting that "only the president of the United States has better health care than these animals are going to receive."
"Because they do so well in human care, Phoenix is a perfect destination," Grey Stafford told Arizona's Fox 10. "We have some 5 million residents and tourists each year, so it's a great audience to reach out and educate and inspire young people of all ages about the need to protect and preserve our ocean."
However, groups like the Humane Society of the United States have long opposed the capture and display of marine mammals, citing their highly social nature and tight family bonds which are unable to be replicated in confinement.
The Huffington Post has reached out to Dolphinaris for comment.