Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XI No. 1 - January 2002

The MMPA and Captivity

By William Rossiter

CSI in January joined several organizations in a letter to Representatives Gilchrest and Underwood, of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans, concerning the reauthorization of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The captive display industry wants to further weaken this fundamental law even further than their successful onslaught in 1994. Our organizations are unified to restrengthen the MMPA to do the job Congress intended in 1972.

How bad is it? For one example, suppose a whale was captured by another country under shady circumstances, which an investigation may prove illegal. Should the MMPA allow NMFS to permit this whale to be imported to the U.S. before the issue is settled, and possibly trigger another shady capture? This is about Kshamenk, a male orca at Mundo Marino, Argentina, who was allegedly taken by a forced "stranding" about eight years ago. Argentina Law 25O52 forbids captures of orcas, but not the recovery of stranded animals. Kshamenk also is reputedly showing lethargic and aggressive behavior, similar to previous orcas that died at Mundo Marino. The facility is alleged to be concerned that Kshamenk will soon die, and very desperate for cash as Argentina's economy collapses. Add in the assumption in Argentina that Mundo Marino will attempt to "recover" another "stranded" orca if Kshamenk is removed, the evidence that even Kshamenk's age is in doubt, and an investigation of the actions of Mundo Marino and certain officials. Full of holes benefiting the captivity industry, the current MMPA does not prevent NMFS from permitting the import of a potentially illegal orca.

The 1994-weakened MMPA also allows marine mammals to be exported to an uncertain fate, without further permits. Foreign facilities need not be inspected for comparison to U.S. standards before the export, and foreign governments are not required to accord comity to U.S. laws, which means out-of-sight is out-of-mind. The MMPA does not prohibit the use of marine mammals in traveling shows, or prevent the industry from wild captures of marine mammals that are available from captive breeding programs or other sources. The existing Marine Mammal Inventory Report requirements are minimal, not even recording a living animal's health status for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), for purposes of Animal Welfare Act enforcement, and to allow better tracking of trade.

The letter also requests that Congress ask the Government Accounting Office (GAO) to undertake a review of the effectiveness of the current division of responsibility among the agencies responsible for the care and maintenance of marine mammals in captivity. Many problems have arisen by imposing oversight on APHIS, which lacks the necessary resources and expertise. For example, polar bears allegedly suffered inhumane treatment in the Suarez Circus, currently in Puerto Rico, that had been allowed by APHIS and acquiesced to by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The already weakened MMPA needs help. CSI needs your support to urge your Representatives and Senators to support a GAO review of MMPA-responsible agencies.

Go to next article: The Challenge of Extinction or: Table of Contents.

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