Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. X No. 2 - April 2001


Captivity Gets Uglier

By William Rossiter


The cetacean captivity situation is worsening in many areas, perhaps an expected result of increased attention and criticism. Democratic processes and enforced laws may not exist where exploitation is normal. For example, protesters to a new dolphinarium in Anguilla were assaulted, amplifying the reality that people exploiting dolphins in developing nations are not likely to respect laws or human rights. The rich owner's local power, the nation's official malaise, and the media's support have prevented any humane attention to the dolphins.

Protesters to Manati Park in the Dominican Republic received a computer virus in reply to their concerns. Photos of this truly horrible facility are at: http://www.barrylipman.com/JPEGS/Dolphinarium.htm. Tourists report that Manati Park is one of the worst facilities they have ever seen. In common with the exploitive trend, up to ten people at once "swim with the dolphins", including unsupervised children. The water quality is terrible, and specifics about the dolphins that have died so far are hard to get.

The infamous portable dolphin and sea lion show, Mundo Marino, or "Water Land", arrived in Lima, Peru, in early February. Headquartered on Isla Margarita, Venezuela, this operation is among the worst in the world. They have closed up and moved on from Lima as you read this, literally one step ahead of the law. A video documentary by Earth Undercover reportedly was sufficient to have the show shut down in Venezuela and Jamaica. But in Peru the show snuck in ahead of the conflict, even winning attention from actors of local soap operas who spoke highly of the show and claimed their "love" for dolphins.

Mundo Marino's efficient and profitable strategy is to quietly book a stay of two or three months in a location where they are guaranteed to be unique and profitable, arriving as a surprise to any opposition. In Lima Mundo Marino's practiced crew dug a hole in the ground at the "Jockey Plaza", one of the largest and most popular malls, inserted a liner, and added salt and chlorine to local water. Their dolphins and sea lions came by truck from Ecuador, at Tumbes on Peru's northern border. By the time this was discovered by media investigations, along with a long list of infractions, Mundo Marino had packed up and disappeared.

Over a month after Mundo Marino's arrival the Ministry of Fisheries (MIPE) denied the import permits for the dolphins and sea lions of Water Land. MIPE was not willing to take any further steps against Mundo Marino, but could have closed or expelled the show from Peru. Instead MIPE passed the case to the public prosecutor, who had 3 weeks to address the offences.

Three Peruvian NGOs, Asociacion PRODELPHINUS, ACOREMA and CEPEC, came together to fight Mundo Marino, supported by many international organizations. They gathered much media support and, perhaps, a legislative initiative to prevent such displays in the future.

Captive Cetaceans In Mexico: Some Hope?

CSI reminds readers that the first-ever Mexican Captivity report is on CSI's web site at: http://csiwhalesalive.org/csimexico.html.

In mid-December vacationing dolphin captivity expert Dr. Toni Frohoff stood in waist deep water on a beach in La Paz, Mexico, to illustrate the shallow water of one of the worst dolphin displays she had ever seen. The pens were new and empty.

New Year's day they contained eight bottlenose dolphins, having survived a long road journey from their capture site at Magdalena Bay. Javier Enriquez Cerralde, MD, a U.S. citizen, had created the Dolphin Learning Center, FINS, as a retirement investment. With no previous knowledge of dolphins and a few basic permits he had intended to provide a "swim with the dolphin" program for an easy profit. The Hotel La Concha Beach Resort next door provided some logistical support.

As the local, national and international protest grew one of the dolphins, Luna, died on 3 February. Luna had been mishandled, dropped and injured during the final transport to the pen. The video of that transport shows the trainer hammering on another dolphin's crate to open it, as well as the terrible and repeated mishandling of Luna. Even after the video was widely available Dr. Enriquez denied any problems. One of the smaller survivors was thought to be her calf.

The problems included a location where the tide pushed the dolphins against the wire mesh, and when low, was only about a meter deep. Local sewage discharged nearby, and boat traffic passed close. The permits had been violated in several ways, including capturing two more dolphins than allowed, as well as substandard medical attention.

Mexican officials reacted relatively quickly both to the problems at FINS and to the associated threat of a tourist boycott. The Internet may have played a significant role in the early event, as a spontaneous protest against the dolphin mistreatment blew through forums and chat rooms. Mexico does not have official standards for dolphin captures, transport and treatment in captivity, but they may make some now. Mexican officials inspected FINS and met with representatives of concerned Mexican environmental groups. At the core of this movement Dr. Yolanda Alaniz, President of Conservación de Mamíferos Marinos de México, AC, was assisted by the Mexican Group of 100 and a wide assembly of international organizations. CSI was pleased to play a significant role.

The Mexican agency PROFEPA inspected the Dolphin Learning Center facility on 8 February, found violations of its permit conditions, told the facility of this determination on 5 March, took control of FINS and "semi-confiscated" the dolphins. Also in January three dolphins were partially confiscated at Isla Mujeres, and two injured sea lions were confiscated in Cancun.

Lic. Victor Lichtinger Waisman, Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAP) announced in March a moratorium on all captures of wild dolphins from Mexican waters, pending an administrative review. If you have read the Mexican Captivity Report you know that Mexico is a primary supplier of dolphins worldwide.

The La Paz dolphins were still partially wild, and strong support was given to a fully funded release effort back to their capture site. A bewildering screen of obstacles thwarted all release efforts. Although Mexican officials also talked of release nothing has happened.

Nothing has been done either to bring the facility into compliance with the permit conditions during PROFEPA's "Administrative Procedure". There is increasing concern from rumors that local officials may be trying to profit from the sale of the dolphins, perhaps to an international buyer. President Fox's adamant position against corruption may keep officials from being too bold; they and the dolphins are being monitored.

Dr. Enriquez and his wife have returned to the U.S., constantly demanding compensation for their dolphins, while seemingly puzzled at all the negative attention. SEMARNAP seems to be inclined to pay him something, even while Enriquez, an alien, has broken the law and embarrassed Mexico. PROFEPA may even be providing shows to tourists.

Following the lead of the Washington Post's front page article, March 20th, "Fighting Over Flipper; As Profitable Dolphin Parks Spread, A Death in Mexico Brings Scrutiny", at least one major TV network is planning an investigation.

The British Ambassador to Mexico recently summarized the basic issue neatly when he responded to a letter that "Baja California Sur is very dependent on tourism, much of it from the United States, and so long as tourists seem to want displays of this kind, someone will supply them. But re-educating the public is an uphill struggle." Tourists are supporting this travesty. Educated tourists want no part of it. Who will educate the tourists if we don't?

Test Tube Orcas

In early April SeaWorld California announced that, after 12 years of effort, the theme park had succeeded in artificially inseminating an orca in February 2000. Kasatka, held at SeaWorld California in San Diego, is 14 months pregnant and due to deliver in August. Tillikum, the father, is held at SeaWorld Orlando. The orcas were trained to perform certain behaviors the public may not have seen as part of the standard show.

In addition to managing the decline in genetic diversity the procedure may allow SeaWorld to market orca sperm. Although it is unclear whether SeaWorld has a corporate interest in aiding competitive facilities, Marineland of Canada may duplicate the procedure to commercially market orcas. In time the entire captive display industry may benefit from not having to capture, buy, and transport a male whale or dolphin. Legal questions of international transportation remain to be tested, but smuggling future whales and dolphins may become a growth industry. In terms of maximizing profit, as super-cooled sperm samples are significantly lighter than a whole whale, the transportation savings to SeaWorld alone will offset construction of new gift shops and concession stands.

Canada and New Zealand: Polarized Views On Captivity

Canada has no long-term policy covering the trade and captivity of marine mammals. Canadian Member of Parliament Libby Davies (NDP, Vancouver East) tabled a private member's motion, M-75, in the House of Commons in early April calling for an immediate ban on the live-capture and trade of whales and dolphins, to allow time for experts to study the issue more thoroughly. Ms. Davies reports that "the government has chosen not to regulate the trade of marine mammals, and facilities in Canada have become warehouses for whales and dolphins that are earmarked for captivity in aquariums across the continent". Also of concern is the practice of so-called "whale laundering". Marine parks and aquariums in other countries use Canada's lax system as a loophole to get around their tougher national laws. In 1998 Dr. Jon Lien, an internationally respected marine mammal scientist from Memorial University in Newfoundland, conducted a review of marine mammals in captivity. He concluded that, "new live-captures and imports [of whales and dolphins] should not be permitted for the time being." Department of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Herb Dhaliwal refused to act on any of the recommendations. 18 captive cetaceans have come into Canada since May 1999. Two of these animals have already died. There is nothing to prevent the export of whales and dolphins from facilities like Marineland to other facilities around the world. For more information, please call: (613) 992-6030.

In contrast, New Zealand's Conservation Minister Sandra Lee in late March stated her opposition to keeping dolphins in captivity, specifically directed at the nation's remnant captive display facility, Napier's Marineland. The Napier City Council has lobbied hard to gain government approval to import captive born dolphins, probably from the United States. Marineland's two remaining dolphins are about 30 years old. While no formal decision has been made, the Conservation Minister will make it. She welcomes the demise of "theme parks" where captive dolphins perform tricks in "a concrete tank". In her speech at New Zealand's Sea Week she added: "Indeed, in my opinion, the days of performing captive dolphins in New Zealand are all but over as we move into a new era of economic benefit based on encountering dolphins in the wild." Minister Lee supports regulated tours to see and swim with wild dolphins. Initial steps have begun to modify New Zealand's Marine Mammal Protection Act to reflect New Zealanders' agreement with Minister Lee's position.


Go to next article: Hardy Jones Investigates Fishing Villages Of Japan, April 2001 or: Table of Contents.

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