As of Christmas there were no U.S. captive cetacean import permit applications on file. The only pending export of marine mammals from the U.S. is from a controversial facility that has captured and brokered many dolphins over the years. As their business slows, and with a long history of problems with animal care and mortality, an inspection has been scheduled involving the Marine Mammal Commission, National Marine Fisheries Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. To counter growing controversy some facilities are trying new angles, at least on the surface. The Texas State Aquarium at Corpus Christi initially announced that their new dolphin facility would use retired or unreleasable dolphins. It seems, however, that they intend to use the dolphins in a petting pool and stadium in nothing more than the standard cetacean circus. The Director, Stephen Ordahl, came from the Minnesota Zoo, which has had a troublesome history. CSI would appreciate your asking him what he intends with the dolphins, by fax to him at 512-881-1257, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. In November APHIS inspected marine mammal facilities and practices at the financially troubled Marineland in Florida. A report on this inspection is due any day. As ticket sales fell Marineland closed its doors in November, leaving six staff members to take care of the animals. Campground fees are reportedly paying the animals' food bill. The aquarium may lease four of their dolphins for $200,000 to JDI & Associates, an Atlanta company which operates a park in Key West. If Marineland can't reopen, the remaining dolphins and other creatures will be forced on the open market. Deregulating this market by further gutting of the Marine Mammal Protection Act is the goal of the coalition of captive display facilities now planning their assault when the MMPA comes up for reauthorization this spring. How bad will it be? To allow the import of Canadian seal skins into the United States, U.S. and Canadian officials and constituents interested in amending the Marine Mammal Protection Act met in November. Although unlikely the Administration would support such an amendment this demonstrates the pressures that the MMPA will have to survive. Canada's annual seal hunt is not sustainable; up to 40% more seals may be killed but lost than are caught and processed. Yes, you can expect an avalanche of concerns from CSI and many others as this battle starts. Please be ready to help.
The international trade in captive marine mammals for research or displays is sadly booming. You can even buy whales over the Internet. CSI recently received an offer to buy two Russian belugas! With the end of the Soviet Union, and the idling of many of its captive cetacean military and research facilities, dolphins and whales have been showing up all over the world, wherever the price is right and the laws allow. A few examples include the four belugas at Hakkeijima, the fourth largest aquarium in Japan, all from Vladivostok. Another big facility which will open in 2000 in Shimane, western Japan, is acquiring four more belugas from Russia. Russian Naval officials announced the November 1998 closing of their Far East base at Vityaz Bay, where beluga whales and dolphins reportedly were trained for combat purposes including detection of enemy divers. Remaining beluga whales were transferred to a civilian research center on the Black Sea, and some seem destined for display facilities in Asia. As 1998 ended three bottlenose dolphins and two sea lions were imported to Bahrain's Dolphin Park from Russia's Scientific Research Institute for Oceanology and Dolphin Training. The Aquarium's unenlightened press release says that during the planned four daily shows "the dolphins can jump six metres and jump through rings and the public will be able to swim and dive with the dolphins." The Beijing Dolphinarium recently opened with eight South American sea lions from Uruguay, and seven bottlenose dolphins and three false killer whales from the infamous Japanese drive fishery. This unspeakable travesty now supplying Asia with selected survivors from the drive's slaughter remains one of the worst insults to the honor of Japan.
Captive cetaceans in Brazil have been held off for some time, but that may change soon. Recent meetings and communications have shown that IBAMA, the Brazilian equivalent to NMFS, has taken a pro-captivity stance, reportedly due to political pressures. One immediate result of the change was the preemptive construction of a new display facility in Rio that may open soon. IBAMA is expected to permit the importation of bottlenose dolphins and seals from Zoomarine in Portugal to this facility any day. Cautionary influence GTEMA, IBAMA's advisory group on aquatic mammals, may be ignored as some very wealthy and powerful businessmen invest in several captive display facilities planned for elsewhere in Brazil. To some the growth of the industry in Brazil is inevitable, and they are working to improve Brazil's pertinent regulations and enforcement for display. To others this is a blight that has not yet begun, and they want to stop it before it starts. As facts are learned an international campaign will be coordinated to keep the blight from spreading. If you wish to help please contact CSI and we will get you involved.
In September Cassana became the 73rd dolphin to die at Marineland in Napier, the only dolphinarium in New Zealand. Marineland's future would be in doubt when any of the three remaining common dolphins die, due to capture and import policies, according to local and Department of Conservation officials.
From tragedy there can also be good news: In a response to a recent series of dolphin deaths at a new captive display facility in India, Cabinet Minister Maneka Gandhi wrote to Mark Berman of Earth Island Institute: "Unfortunately by the time I came to know about this dolphinarium it had already got all its licenses from the commerce ministry and the environment ministry. Now two sea lions and three dolphins have died. They had applied for permission to import more sea lions and dolphins. I have had that stopped. No more licenses will be issued to import any of these animals anywhere in India." If you have doubted that public concerns and the Internet have any impact read the Minister's statement again.
Speaking of public influence, Iris and Ivo are the two bottlenose dolphins of growing celebrity that somehow survived in the Antwerp Zoo, which is about to end its dolphin display. Four Belgian organizations have initiated an international consortium of over 50 organizations and notables, including Ric O'Barry and their own Prince Laurent for the "Save Iris and Ivo Campaign 1999" to prevent Iris and Ivo from being sold to the Duisburg Zoo in Germany. Duisburg has a terrible history; at least 19 of 24 dolphins there have died. Whales Alive! readers may recall the effort to ensure that Duisburg did not get any river dolphins for a captive breeding program. A campaign coordinated by German organizations and assisted by local media is ensuring that Duisburg will not get Iris and Ivo either. There is a solution: A dolphinarium built in France at Port Saint Pere last year was not allowed to import any dolphins, thanks to a strong protest campaign and decision by the Environment Minister. The vacant Port Saint Pere facility uses natural sea water and is spacious, open and modern. Pending the Environment Minister's agreement, Port Saint Pere may become the First European Care and Rehabilitation Centre for Marine Mammals, serving both captive and stranded dolphins. No tricks. No swim-with-the-dolphins programs. Just dolphins among other dolphins, with discreet underwater cameras in order to unobtrusively monitor their behavior. For the last 8 dolphins at Bruges, the 5 dolphins at Antibes Marineland, and the 6 dolphins (or less) at Parc Asterix, the new European Rehabilitation Center may become the gateway to freedom. Letters to the Antwerp Zoo's Director in support of the Save Iris and Ivo Campaign 1999 would be appreciated: Mr. Frédéric DAMAN, Directeur du Zoo d'Anvers, Antwerp Zoo Royal Society for Zoology, Koningin Astridplein 26, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium. Fax: +32 (0)3/231.00.18 or +32 (0)3/202.45.50.
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