Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VIII No. 4 October 1999


Cetacean Captivity Update

By William Rossiter, CSI President


BRAZIL: IBAMA, Brazil's equivalent to NMFS in the U.S., has sent proposed regulations for cetacean captive display to the Minister of the Interior. The scientific advisory federal Working Group, GTEMA, will meet in October to consider the regulations. Permits for a portable dolphin show from Paraguay have been denied. The proposed dolphinarium in Rio is still stalled. Influencing the Minister with the facts about this issue is complicated by an insulating staff, power politics, and economics. Some very rich and influential Brazilians stand to reap strong profits in a faltering economy if captive dolphin displays are allowed once again in Brazil.

CARIBBEAN: An effort by the Curaçao Seaquarium to capture up to 12 dolphins in Curaçao was fought by Rainbow Warriors International and Reef Care Curaçao, joined by CSI and many other organizations worldwide. The dolphins were to be caught by a Mexican national who would keep six of the dolphins as payment, with the Seaquarium's six being used for swim-with programs. In spite of protests the plans continued. In early September three days of local radio interviews, media articles and lectures on the "Pros and Cons of keeping dolphins in captivity" included the special skills of cetacean activist Ric O'Barry. CSI commends Ric for confronting the Commissioner of Tourism during a radio debate. The Commissioner reluctantly agreed that captures and imports were illegal in Curaçao. The next day the Seaquarium announced they had canceled their plans because it was against the law. To his discredit the Commissioner has vowed to change the law. Although 1993's Dolphin Beach Aruba, 1999's Aruba Swim With The Dolphin facility, and 1999's Curaçao Seaquarium dolphin displays have been stopped, a reported plan to bring Mundo Marino to Aruba may still be active. Waterland Mundo Marino, a Colombian traveling circus with marine mammals, is based in Venezuela. It traveled through Aruba in 1996, and in 1999 was trying to establish a swim with the dolphins facility in Aruba by importing dolphins through Curaçao. Waterland Mundo Marino is one of the worst traveling dolphin shows in the world, and was denied entry into Puerto Rico only after a concerted effort by many organizations.

CHILE: August's headlines in Santiago, that the Ministry of Fisheries "Subsecretaria Denies Importation for Dolphins", signaled success for now in a long battle to prevent a new dolphinarium, "Dolphinchile" or "Delfinoterapia de Chile Ltda." To be built near Santiago and include Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT), the facility has been an enlightening example of power politics at play in Latin America. CSI and many other organizations joined courageous groups in Chile (where some public dissent is treated harshly) to supply the authorities with details about CITES irregularities, potential problems with imports from Mexico, the controversy surrounding DAT, and the often tragic histories of maintaining cetaceans for captive display in Latin America. The official reasons for denying the import were that: the CITES permit had expired; Dolphinchile intended to keep the dolphins in a public swimming pool while the dolphinarium was under construction; Delfinoterapia de Chile Ltda. handed different reports to SERNAP and Subsecretaria de Pesca; the tragic case of the captive dolphin Meñique was referenced; and DAT is experimental and shows no evidence as a valid medical therapy. The document concluded that "the project's conditions are incompatible with the integrity of the animals".

COSTA RICA: Sources indicate that Xcaret of Mexico will try to start a swim-with-the-dolphins and DAT project in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican Ministerio del Ambiente y Energia has not yet received permit requests for importing dolphins, but this is often the last step. "Dolphinarium of Miami", a traveling dolphin in Costa Rica this summer left, after two months, but to where? Keeping track of the many portable displays and often suffering dolphins is very difficult. Stopping them from entry into unsuspecting countries is becoming easier as the facts are known.

MEXICO: Mexico has become the major source of captive dolphins for often tragic displays throughout Latin America. In order to understand enough about that dolphin trafficking and the capturing operations that supply it, an ongoing survey is being conducted by Lic. Hugo Castello, noted Latin American cetacean authority and Chief of the Marine Mammal Department of the Natural Science Museum of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. With the financial support of the Animal Welfare Institute, CSI, Earth Island Institute, Humane Society International, Mac Hawley, and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Dr. Castello met officials and activists, and inspected facilities and records. His report will be available by the end of the year in English and Spanish. The gross details are staggering: Mexico alone keeps more dolphins in captivity than any other nation, and places third behind all of North America and all of Europe. It is probable that no one in Mexico knows exactly how many are captive at any one moment. Even CITES records are outdated or misleading. The situation is devastating. The solution depends on factual information. The search for that information is not expensive by most standards, and CSI is appealing for any ideas that you might have to fund the multilingual report for widespread distribution, particularly within Mexico.

RUSSIAN BELUGAS TO CANADA: On 2 October nine female beluga whales were imported into Canada from Russia. This most recent move by Marineland of Canada's aggressive breeding farm concept for belugas and orcas adds to three male belugas imported on 30 May and crams them all next to five orca whales confined to a third section of the "Friendship Cove" tank.

U. S. BELUGAS: Shedd Aquarium in Chicago lost a male beluga calf on 3 August, born only three weeks earlier. He died reportedly from respiratory and gastrointestinal problems. The mortality rate of infant captive belugas is more than 50 percent. Less than a year ago another beluga calf at Shedd died. The second beluga calf born at Shedd this summer, a female, appears to be doing well and is expected to survive. A Shedd spokesperson downplayed the death, asserting that there is a tendency for belugas in the wild to lose calves, especially their first-born. Shedd should have been more honest. Scientific studies demonstrate that the high mortality in some populations are due to predation, parasites and pollution. None of those things was a factor here. Cetacean mothers unwittingly metabolize pollution poisons into the fat-rich milk they feed their babies. The beluga mother, Puiji, was captured about a decade ago in Hudson Bay, Canada. She will be reintroduced to some of the Shedd's beluga adults, and if Shedd is lucky another calf will be born as soon as possible. Shedd currently keeps six adult belugas, plus the surviving female calf.

Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut lost a beluga for the second time in a year. Aurora, an 18-year-old female, had been sick for almost a year with a "mysterious ailment" and died 6 September. Winston, a 17-year-old male on loan from the New York Aquarium, died in October, 1998, after contracting an unrelated bacterial infection. Shortly after that death, Mystic discovered its three remaining belugas were sick. All three were captured in 1984 at Churchill, Manitoba. The other two belugas, Neku and Kela, no longer show any signs of the illness. Wild beluga whales live in very social groups and live between 35 and 50 years.


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