Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VII No. 1 January 1998

Captive Marine Mammals In South America

by Lic. Hugo P. Castello

The only comprehensive report on cetaceans in captivity in South America is a paper by Lic. Hugo P. Castello, Chief of the Marine Mammal Laboratory, Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences, Buenos Aries. Dr. Castello is a senior, seminal scientist in Latin America, and, thankfully, CSI's Representative in Argentina. Dr. Castello presented this paper at a conference in September, 1997, and graciously provided it to CSI. Our intent was to publish it in this "Whales Alive!", but with great frustration we must summarize it instead because of its length and the need to adhere to protocols regarding continual updates. The full text, with ongoing updates, will be available shortly on CSI's web site [Captive Cetaceans In South America] and in print to anyone who asks us for a copy. From this CSI and others are working to develop a data base on the continent's tragic and dynamic history of cetaceans in captivity. In simple truth we are working for positive change. We invite IMATA and any others to join us, including you, the reader.


There are two oceanaria in Argentina:

Mundo Marino, in Buenos Aries province, started in 1978 with 2 bottlenose dolphins, 4 elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) 2 sea lions (Otaria flavescens) and some Magallanes penguins. The first orca was exhibited in 1986. Since then, they have grown quickly and now they also have a theme park called Bahia Aventura near the oceanarium. They hold 2 orcas (Orcinus orca) who were captured by forced stranding in the Samborombon Bay coast, Belen in 1988, and Kshamenk in 1991. Another orca, Milagro, died after almost 4 years of captivity in 1990. They also have 7 bottlenose dolphins in 3 different pools. Mundo Marino is the only oceanarium in the world that holds a La Plata River Dolphin (Pontoporia blainvillei), a female named Lolita. Mundo Marino is presently requesting a permit to capture another specimen for breeding the species in captivity.

Mar del Plata Aquarium has six bottlenose dolphins and one Dusky dolphin, and may be the facility that recently applied for a permit to import a beluga whale. Locally high summer temperatures have given officials some concern about the beluga's abilities to survive. They kept one La Plata river dolphin alive for six months until February, 1996. Mar del Plata Aquarium has just started a "swim with the dolphins" program this summer.

Activities of the Marine Mammal Laboratory-MACN (Buenos Aires), Project "Orca libre" (Juan. C. Lopez, Pto. Madryn), and Grupo Rescate (Puerto Madryn) include a project for a Killer Whale Protection Law to forbid orca captures by forced stranding or netting and also proposes the rehabilitation and liberation of the two killer whales in captivity at Mundo Marino Oceanarium. It is now under study by the Natural Resources Commission of the Deputies National Chamber.


The Ministry of Tourism and the Environment (MTE) received a proposal by Grupo Ritco de Eco-Desarrollo S.A. de C.V. of Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, to establish a theme park in the Ambergris Caye area. The dolphins would be included in a "swim-with" program. It should be added here that many regional facilities in countries north of Panama are not covered in this report, in part because of incomplete information, and also to protect sensitive investigations.


A Dolphinarium was proposed in Santos during 1997 by the powerful Brazilian entrepreneur Beto Carreiro and a Russian. Documents provided to the General Attorney forced the Mayor of Santos to reject the dolphinarium proposal. At this coastal city several years ago the only Brazilian dolphinarium was closed by authorities, and the bottlenose dolphin "Flipper" was liberated.

The last "tucuxi" dolphin in captivity in Brazil, trapped in Sete Lagoas by a dam, was returned in 1997 to the Amazon river in the area of Santarem.

The Portuguese firm ZOOMARINE has made contact with the Brazilian authorities of IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of the Environment), to bring in up to five/six bottlenose dolphins. ZOOMARINE reputedly gives grants for research and assists autistic children with their "swim with the dolphin" programs. So far no application has been received by IBAMA and it may as well be that they found the process too cumbersome to deal with, though they still have the legal right to apply for a license.

Beto Carrero World, the fifth largest amusement park in the world, is located in Santa Catarina, and already has a zoo of its own. They have declared an interest in displaying orcas, but so far no application has been made. Beto Carrero is a wealthy man reportedly connected to the powerful GLOBO TV Network.


The government has temporarily halted the controversial "Swim with the Dolphins" attraction, which allowed visitors to frolic with the friendly aquatic mammals, amid protests that it constitutes animal cruelty.


The bottlenose dolphin Meñique was abandoned at Iquique in 1996, after a traveling public dolphin show failed. A male dolphin also captured in Cuban waters was killed in the same place. After considerable effort by activist organizations, Meñique was transported by the Chilean Air Force to Santiago and from there to Cuba by Aerolineas Cubanas. At present the dolphin is at the Acuario Nacional de Cuba with a fungal infection. Cuban authorities have promised to liberate Meñique as soon as the animal is in good condition.


A businessman who ran a captive facility in Cadaques, Spain is trying to relocate his dolphinarium to Costa Rica after a failure. The four dolphins, captured in Cuba, are reportedly kept in horrible conditions.


It is well known that the Acuario Nacional de la Habana has sponsored traveling dolphin public displays in Peru and Chile. There are several dolphin displays in Cuba, and there may be up to 40 dolphins scattered in many facilities in other countries, but little more should be said because of ongoing investigations. Cuba has captured and sold many trained dolphins and has even abandoned them if a show failed. There are several efforts underway to change those policies.


Convimar is based in Mexico, operates five fixed installations, and is one of the oldest marine mammal firms (1979) on the continent. Touring shows began in 1993. During 1996-97 the Convimar traveling public display show of two bottlenose dolphins and four South American sea lions toured Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Paraguay. They openly state that they are aggressively looking for new show markets. They recently requested permission to operate a show in Argentina, providing very limited information to officials about display and husbandry conditions.

Although Mexico is a major source of captured dolphins and traveling displays, some details of Mexican captivity facilities and policies are being omitted here because of sensitive investigations and negotiations.


The Hotel Los Delfinos still has the two dolphins, despite the official position that the import was illegal. The Ministry of Fisheries imposed a fine on the hotel, and requested the Customs Office to order a re-export of the dolphins in 1997. ACOREMA, Cruzada por la Vida, and many other organizations are lobbying authorities intensely.


The National Foundation of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (FUNPZA) from Venezuela, together with PROFAUNA had issued a valid capture permit for four Amazon River dolphins intended for the Dallas World Aquarium in Texas, which withdrew their U.S. Import Permit Application after overwhelming opposition appeared. At least some scientific studies on the status of this dolphin may result, but the Acuario de Valencia displays locally captured dolphins that they appear ready to market to any aquarium. Government agencies have not yet lived up to their promises regarding this trade.

Go to next article: Four Captive Orcas Die In October 1997 or: Table of Contents.

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