By Rachel Siford & Heidi Sutton
Thirteen-year-old Jessica Finger has loved dolphins all her life. Now, in celebration of International Dolphin Day, which is held every year in September, she is giving back by organizing a unique fundraising event on Sunday, Aug. 30, to help them. Titled Dogs for Dolphins, the event is part of her Bat Mitzvah community service project.
It is customary for a community service project to go hand in hand with a Bat Mitzvah, along with Hebrew school and learning about the Jewish faith. Her Bat Mitzvah is scheduled for October.
Jessica has a very strong stance on anti-captivity of these beautiful sea creatures. “I’ve been passionate about helping dolphins and whales since I was really little,” said Jessica. “I started to like them because of SeaWorld, but then I realized the truth and now I am an activist against [SeaWorld].”
“[Dolphins] are just more intelligent than other mammals … they live with their families for their entire lives and they are very interesting,” said Jessica, adding that killer whales (orcas) have a special place in her heart. Her favorite book is “Behind the Dolphin Smile” by former dolphin trainer Richard O’Barry.
Her mother Beth said that Jessica became even more passionate about saving dolphins after watching “The Cove.” The 2009 documentary shows O’Barry exposing Japan’s massive dolphin slaughter that takes place in the town of Taiji by local fisherman annually from September through April. The group Whale and Dolphin Conservation has stated that, since 2000, more than 18,000 dolphins from seven different species have been either killed or taken into captivity during the Taiji hunt.
According to the teenager, “it changed my life ever since. I now use Instagram to be an activist for dolphins in captivity and for giving updates about the infamous ‘Cove’ in Japan,” she said.
Barry went on to found The Dolphin Project, which aims to stop the murder and exploitation of dolphins around the world. Jessica found out about this organization about a year ago through social media and decided to raise money to support this noble cause. With a goal of $750, she has already raised $336.
Jessica and her mother completed a six-hour training course at the Long Island Aquarium this summer and now volunteer at the Riverhead tourist attraction where they interact with guests and provide them with interesting facts about the animals there. Jessica’s favorite job is working at the touch tank where visitors can have a hands-on encounter with sea stars, clams, whelks, hermit crabs and horseshoe crabs.
“I agreed to volunteer with Jessica since it’s something that she desperately wanted. I have to admit that I am enjoying it very much and look forward to it as much as she does. I am constantly amazed at how knowledgeable she is about marine life. We are excited to volunteer at a seal release on Monday, Aug. 31, at Cedar Beach in Mt. Sinai,” said her mother, adding “It’s also a great way for us to have some meaningful mother-daughter time.” Members of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation will be at the event to speak about how they rehabilitate marine life.
A true animal lover, Jessica lives in Nesconset with her parents, two younger brothers, a dog named Summer, two rabbits, three tortoises, a frog and tropical fish. Jessica said her goal in life is to “be either a marine biologist or a member of The Dolphin Project.”
“I am very proud of Jessica for her compassion for all animals. She has deep integrity at such a young age. Her love for animals led her to become a vegetarian when she was only eight years old — she will not wear leather or even enjoy marshmallows and S’mores with her friends because there is gelatin [an animal product] in them,” said Jessica’s mom. Her stance has “inspired several of her friends to become vegetarians too,” she added.
“It is appropriate that the occasion of her Bat Mitzvah, when she takes on the role of being a responsible young adult, was the impetus for Jessica to bring the community together to help make the world a better place. In Judaism, we call that Tikkun Olam, and I can’t think of a better way for Jessica to launch this next chapter of her life as a Bat Mitzvah,” said her mother proudly.
On Aug. 30, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Jessica invites the community to bring their dogs along with friends and family to the Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, 2114 Sound Ave., Calverton, for a walk through the trails of the vineyard to support a great cause.
The walk will be followed by lunch, a pie tasting, activities for kids and dogs, crafts and wine. Patrons will be able to decorate bandanas for their dogs and play games. Massage gift certificates, gift cards to restaurants and cooking classes at Sur la Table will be raffled off during the afternoon.
The event is sponsored by Animal Health and Wellness Veterinary Care in Setauket, Pet Supplies Plus and Long Island Iced Tea, and patrons can expect an endless supply of free ice tea and pet treats.
There is a $10 per person suggested donation at the door (includes lunch) with 100 percent of the proceeds going to support The Dolphin Project (www.dolphinproject.net). There is no rain date. Advance registration is available by visiting www.crowdrise.com/dogsfordolphins. For more information, please call 917-414-4526.