The enticing Mexican beach resort city of Cancun is one of the hottest vacation destinations for Americans. From the luxurious hotels that line its white-sand beaches to the antics of spring break, its turquoise-colored waters draw thousands of tourists from the United States every year.
As this top-notch vacation destination continues to gain in popularity, more tourists are coming to Cancun with a very specific purpose: an up-close and personal encounter with a dolphin.
"People demand more and more," said Mauricio Martinez, director of Parque Nizuc, a Cancun water park that features dolphins. "People love it."
But as the number of tourists demanding time with the animals continues to swell, so does the business of capturing them, sometimes under what activists consider deplorable conditions.
At places like Parque Nizuc, tourists pay more than $100 each for a chance to pet, kiss or even be propelled through the water by dolphins.
With a single dolphin capable of generating $1 million a year, business is good. But is life good for the dolphins?
Martinez thinks so.
"I think they are very happy here," he said. "They have customers who enjoy being with them -- they are enriched, they are motivated."
But when animal activist Ric O'Barry visits a dolphin park, he sees a much darker reality.
"The dolphin smile is nature's greatest deception; it creates the illusion they actually like doing this job," O'Barry said. "But if this dolphin were laying up on the dock dead, it would still look like it's smiling."
During the 1960s, O'Barry became the man who introduced a generation of Americans to dolphins as the trainer for the television show "Flipper."
Five dolphins were used to play the role, and O'Barry says he captured all of them himself, something that eventually made him hate his work.
"The concept of a humane capture is an oxymoron -- there is no such animal," he said. "I've captured over a hundred dolphins myself, humanely, and I can tell you it's a lot like rape. It's a very violent procedure."
For O'Barry, the final straw was when his favorite "Flipper" dolphin died in his arms from what he says was stress and depression.
That was 30 years ago, and ever since he and other activists have fought tirelessly to put an end to dolphin captures.
He and his peers have helped produce changes in the United States and Mexico, which have banned or restricted the taking of dolphins from the wild.
In fact, no dolphin park in the United States has brought in a captive dolphin in more than 10 years. Yet, in other parts of the world, the demand for captive dolphins remains high.
Brokers, who can make up to $100,000 per animal, are scouring the globe for new supplies all the time.
That's why Chris Porter, the biggest dolphin broker in the world -- a man hated by animal activists, but who considers himself a friend and protector of dolphins -- says his conservation efforts are so important.
"What I provide is an alternative," he said. "I think in order to impact change you need to provide an alternative."
Porter has made a business of buying and selling dolphins -- a practice he says is in the interest of conservation, not profit.
"If it wasn't good for the dolphins, I wouldn't do it," he said.
But O'Barry says Porter is nothing more than a greedy businessman looking to make a profit from a detestable trade.