Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XIV No. 1 - January 2005

Captive Dolphins In The Solomon Islands

44 dolphins remained confined in the Solomon Islands as of late November, and may be offered for international sale by the pseudo-resort / dolphin brokerage at Gavutu, according to ongoing investigations by the World Society for the Protection of Animals. After last year's infamous export of dolphins to Mexico's Parq Nizuc, which that government has since admitted was a mistake, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) had asked the Solomon Islands for additional data, and stated that until information had been received the CITES Secretariat would advise member nations to refuse to import dolphins from there.

CITES' weak intervention may be ignored, and there are several non-CITES destinations these dolphins may disappear into. And there were no meaningful improvements to the NDF requirements at CITES CoP13 either. The 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, that met on 2-14 October, 2004, in Bangkok, Thailand, for the sixth time in a row, did defeat Japan's proposal to downlist the Minke whale from CITES's Appendix I to Appendix II which would have ended the existing ban on trade in whale meat. Thailand's proposal to put the Irrawaddy dolphin on CITES's Appendix I was passed. Irrawaddy dolphins are now only found in small, geographically isolated populations from Australia to India and the Philippines.

Dolphin Discovery's challenge to the authority of Antigua and Barbuda is another way in which the captive display industry is flexing its muscles. The confrontation was set up in 2003, as the previous government issued a dubious display license to Dolphin Fantaseas, which began a facility at the unsuitable Marina Bay lagoon. Some of the dolphins had been purchased unlawfully from Cuba by American partners in the venture, currently being investigated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a violation of the Helms / Burton Act. Then a capture permit for 12 bottlenose dolphins in Antigua's waters was granted, although unsubstantiated by any population assessment and violating international protocols the government had ratified. It was cancelled only after causing an outcry.

Thankfully a national election swept almost all of the old, inept, corrupt government out, and the nation eagerly began a rebuilding to achieve their potential. But, in the midst of many pressing problems, Dolphin Fantaseas became Dolphin Discovery, a multinational corporation with facilities in Mexico and Tortola. Dolphin Discovery decided that dirty water flowing from inland through the lagoon to the sea might dissuade tourists from paying to swim with the dolphins. They simply and illegally plugged the drainage culvert. Heavy rains soon backed up waters, affecting local communities with what became a health crisis for a hard working government that didn't need another issue.

Minister for Health John Maginley deserves enormous credit for his skilled, determined and caring approach to the growing crisis, as he worked to get the dolphins out of harm's way before releasing the polluted water into the bay. Minister Maginley was kind enough to connect directly with CSI's Bill Rossiter, because of an association years before. That direct access and other connections assisted the coalition of NGOs, including CSI, which had responded to Martha Watkins Gilkes, of the Antigua-Barbuda Independent Tourist Corporation. The goal was to help both the dolphins and the government, who were considering confiscating the dolphins but had no capacity to care for them. The HSUS and WSPA in late October brought marine mammal veterinarian Dr. Guillermo Lopez from Costa Rica, and Marine Mammal Scientist Dr. Toni Frohoff from the USA, to assess the dolphins' health prior to a necessary relocation. Although Dolphin Discovery did not have that capability and the dolphins needed it, the team and government officials were refused access. Ric O'Barry, of France's One Voice, arrived to create a temporary facility where the dolphins could be rehabilitated, in coordination with the government.

What was really happening, that no one anticipated, was that the rightful authority of the Antiguan government was being ignored and rejected by Dolphin Discovery. The owner even reneged on agreements made directly to Prime Minister Baldwyn Spencer. No one was prepared as Dolphin Discovery treated the government of Antigua in an insulting, disdainful and defiant manner.

As the public and Dolphin Discovery neared violence over the culvert, and the confiscation loomed in early December, Dolphin Discovery surprised everyone again, by secreting all the dolphins and many other animals onto 60 year old DC-3s and flying them all to Prospect Reef, Tortola. The campaign will follow them there, as the Government of the British West Indies reacts to the overcrowded facility and dubious care. Forewarned is forearmed.

Go to next article: Dolphin Drives in Japan or: Table of Contents.

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