Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XIV No. 3 - July 2005

Cetaceans in Captivity

By William Rossiter

Mexican environmentalist Araceli Dominguez was jailed April 24th, because of charges of "defamation of character" filed by Bernardo Zambrano, the owner of "Atlantida" and Parc Nizuc's "Wet n' Wild" aquariums. Dominguez had publicly denounced illegal authorizations for new "swim with dolphins" facilities in Cancun, and was world-known for her defense of the sea turtle sanctuary of Xcacel, mangroves, dolphins, coral reefs, natural protected areas and coastal ecosystems, as well as being a staunch human rights advocate

Zambrano, a man of influence, wealth, and that unique naivete of the elite, was not used to the constant exposure and criticism. He filed charges against Dominguez, along with Sara Rincon, head of the Association to protect animals of Cancun, Cecilia Navarro from Greenpeace Mexico, Ben White from Animal Welfare Institute, Yolanda Alaniz of COMARINO, and five Cancun reporters.

Zambrono deserved the criticism. His Parc Nizuc was the destination for the 28 dolphins improperly imported from the Solomon Islands in July 2003, which Mexico's government has admitted should not have been allowed. Reactions to the trade exposed the enormous international corruption behind the trade of wild dolphins for the captivity industry, as well as corruption in Mexico. Many domestic laws were violated, including the introduction of an exotic species into a natural protected area. The case became a political scandal in Mexico and both houses of Congress demanded investigations and punishment for all parties involved. Zambrono remained untouchable.

Administrative and criminal lawsuits against Parc Nizuc continue, and legal denunciations against environmental authorities for breaking the law resulted in the dismissal of the Undersecretary of the Environment Raul Arriaga. Even the Solomons declared that they would not export dolphins anywhere again, but the dolphins remain at Parc Nizuc, and the government has been unable to confiscate the dolphins according to law, or even inspect the facility to confirm the deaths of at least six dolphins.

Jailing Araceli, mother of two young children, head of the Grupo Ecologista del Mayab of Cancun, and a distinguished environmental activist, created an international uproar. At least forty international organizations protested to President Fox within a day, and the media and the Mexican Senate condemned her arrest. Araceli was released on April 28th, without charges, through the direct intervention of the Governor of Quintana Roo.

The event forged a much stronger bond between seven major Mexican environmental organizations, which joined for a press conference on May 5th to renounce Alberto Cárdenas, and to demonstrate against the corruption and weakness in SEMARNAT, right in front of the Mexican environmental authority's building. CSI's involvement with the Mexican dolphin captivity issue is primarily by supporting Dr. Yolanda Alaniz of COMARINO, third from the right in this photo of that event. This gifted and influential woman deserves all the help we can give.

Seven organizations demonstrated against SEMARNAT

Seven organizations demonstrated against SEMARNAT in Mexico City
(Photo: Laura Rojas)

Only two La Paz dolphins survive of the original eight captured in Mexico's Magdalena Bay in December, 2000. In spite of deaths, illegal actions and inhumane care, La Paz stayed in operation until a hurricane blew the facility apart, after which three dolphins were moved to Vallarta. Salcita's recent death from a lung infection and collapse was kept a secret because of the La Paz scandal, leaving only Nachito and Aqua, who recently had a calf.

Peru's "Los Delfines" hotel in Lima was prepared in April to herald the birth of a dolphin as proof of the hotel's success as a dolphin display facility, but the baby apparently died when the mother pushed it into a wall rather than simply hold it at the surface to breathe. Los Delfines (the Dolphins) is reported to be inhumanely inadequate, and has been the focus of a relentless but unsuccessful effort to stop the display of dolphins, ever since two dolphins were imported under "dubious circumstances" almost a decade ago. While the Peruvian courts found the imports to be legal, many questions remained. The dolphins' facilities are small, and they are reported to behave in the stereotypical manner, and act aggressively with humans. The hotel uses one underwater viewing room for musical events and parties.

Two Risso's dolphins, mother and calf, entered Italy's Ancona harbor in June, where they were captured with nets and placed in an inflatable pool at the defunct Riccione dolphinarium for two days until an old tank could be prepared. Ostensibly for "rescue", the capture provoked outrage, official condemnations, and many questions, but there was no effort to get them treated at "Oltremare", supposedly created for marine mammals in need. The mother died within days, and at last report the calf was not eating.

Taiji, Japan, in June sold the eight survivors of earlier dolphin drives to aquariums in China. Taiji is proud of the certificate they received from Prime Minister Koizumi in March, recognizing the economic value of whales and small cetaceans to the town. Taiji's new "project by whale people through whales/by using whales" is a five year plan based on driving animals into local bays for slaughter and processing, and selection of some for captive sales. Some will be used for a local display, including a touch tank. For additional profit the Taiji's Isana Union or Town Council may request a permit from the Fisheries Agency to capture orcas.

Ariel Imperato, 13, of Tracy, California, is a superb example to us all for her heartfelt yet clearheaded crusade to make a difference in the world. Early in April Ariel visited http://www.keiko.com/ on the Internet and learned of Kshamenk, a 16-year-old male orca on display at Argentina's Mundo Marino Aquarium. She learned of the evidence that Kshamenk was likely forced to strand, and then "rescued" by the aquarium, in alleged violation of Argentine law. She learned that other orcas involved in the stranding had died, and that Belem, an adult female orca had also died at Mundo Marino. Carving intuitively through the charade with orca captivity, Ariel knew intuitively that Kshamenk should be free. She studied the issue, received the support of her family and school, launched a petition drive, and sent the collected signatures in a personal letter to Argentina's president, pleading that Kshamenk be released.

As she looked for more information she found and emailed CSI. Ariel didn't know that CSI and several other organizations for several years have been involved in legal actions in Argentina to prove Kshamenk was illegally captured, or the odd and shady background that may make that case too politically volatile to be heard publicly. She didn't know CSI was part of a lawsuit to keep Kshamenk from being imported to the US, because once the illegal capture was established his import would be in violation of US law, or that CSI has supported preparations for the rehabilitation and release of Kshamenk. But she had come to the right place. Within days she had a lot more facts and support from CSI, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Humane Society of the US, Earth Island Institute, One Voice (France), the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (UK) and the lead organization, Fundación Tierra Salvaje (Wild Earth Foundation) of Argentina.

Ariel's motto is "You wouldn't want to be locked in a cage", and her message is clear: "I have been working on telling everyone and making them understand that this isn't okay to do this to a living breathing thing. And the thing is, it's not about one whale anymore; when I get him released I'm not going to stop there. I am going to make sure that killer whales are not being used for our entertainment, and if they are they better be taking really, I mean really, good care of them, or I will be on it and won't stop till it's over." With a gift for simplicity Ariel continues: "how wonderful for that whale it would be to be out there with his family and his friends. He would be the happiest whale on earth and then you know that you are actually doing something good for something other than yourself."

Kshamenk may not ever know who she is, but Ariel has impressed a lot of folks, received some media attention (such as the San Francisco Chronicle and Spokane's KHQ-TV), and last we heard she was to appear on the Dr. Phil program, in recognition of her outstanding example as someone who wants to make a positive difference. Thank you, Ariel!

Kshamenk's export permit has been denied three times, by CITES Argentina, the Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Minister in charge of environmental issues. The national Ombudsman (Defender of the People) recommended through a Resolution to deny the export permit. The Federal Council of Environment (COFEMA) requested the permit's denial with the signature of all 24 Argentine Provinces.

Why then did Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina (World Wildlife Fund Argentina) choose to support the export of Kshamenk, in fact promote it actively? Captivity issues are not normally in their interest. CSI and several other organizations have asked for an explanation, but the truth may lie hidden, like so much else in this issue.

New captive dolphin displays in Belgium were prohibited by Parliamentary resolution in May. The Committee of Health's resolution also required the Minister of Health, in charge of Animal Welfare, to appoint a special commission to evaluate the current dolphinarium standards. The change was a specific response to criticism of the facility in Bruges, thanks to the advocacy of the Belgium NGO GAIA.

Closing captive dolphin displays and swim-with programs is one of CSI's continuous goals, shared with many organizations linked worldwide as the Cetacean Freedom Network, formally known as Gadflys. As shown in some preceding examples, some of the worst dolphin displays persist in spite of clear illegalities and deficiencies, simply because the entrepreneurs who profit from them are literally above the law, well skilled at evasion, and empowered to ignore all levels of authority. But there are successes, and we are pleased to present here a partial list of facilities that closed or were never opened, most because of ordinary people who protested effectively, often at great personal sacrifice. One of the most effective is Ric O'Barry, who had a hand in closing many on this list:

Concorde el Salam Hotel, Egypt; Edmonton Shopping Mall, Canada; Dolphin Discovery, Antigua; Lerner Marine Lab, Bahamas; Marineland, Australia; Waragamba Dam, Australia; Antwerp Zoo, Belgium; Hagenbeck Zoo, Germany; Kinder Zoo, Switzerland; Tel Aviv, Israel; Luna Park, Israel; Seaquarium, Colombia; Ocean Reef Club, Florida USA; Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma USA; Ocean World, Florida USA; US Navy Dolphin Facility, Florida USA; Santos Amusement Park, Brazil; Dolphin Swim Program, Argentina; Ocean Expo, South Carolina USA; Dolphin Swim Program, Nicaragua; Dolphin Swim Program, Guatemala; Europapark Rust, Germany; Hansaland, Germany; Holiday Park, Germany; Phantasialand, Germany; Six Flags (five parks) USA; Paramount Parks (four parks) USA; Wonderland, Canada; Worlds of Fun, Missouri USA; Knotts Berry Farm, California USA; Marineland of the Pacific, California, USA; Marine Life, South Dakota USA; Colorado Ocean Journey, Colorado USA; Virginia Marine Science Center, Virginia USA; Proposed Dolphinarium, Hawaii USA; Sealand of the Pacific, Canada; Sealand, Massachusetts USA, Montreal Biodome, Canada; Vancouver Aquarium, Canada (whale exhibit closed); Grandby Zoo, Canada; Dolphin Swim Park, Haiti; Moulin Rouge Nightclub Dolphin Show, France; several traveling shows of Venezuela's Mundo Marino, and all dolphin and whale displays in England, including Flamingo Land, Brighton, Morecambe, and Windsor Safari Park.

Do you know of others?

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