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From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2004:

Dolphin captures halted in Antigua & Barbuda,
corrupt officials hit in Mexico


Resolving that, "The permission granted to Mr. John Mezzanotte to capture twelve dolphins annually from Antigua waters is herby revoked," the Cabinet of Antigua & Barbuda on February 11 signaled that at least some small island nations which have historically favored marine mammal exploitation may be rethinking their position.

"Further it is stated," the cabinet resolved, "that any importation or exportation of dolphins into and from Antigua and Barbuda be in strict compliance with all international obligations of Antigua and Barbuda."

Caribbean developer John Mezzanotte is among the promoters of Dolphin Fantaseas, a swim-with-dolphins operation. According to longtime opponents of dolphin captivity Ric and Helene O'Barry, Dolphin Fantaseas started on Anguilla in 1988 with six dolphins imported from Cuba. Testing the market for expansion, three of the dolphins were transferred to Antigua & Barbuda in December 2001.

Martha Watkins-Gilkes, public relations officer for the 1,200-member Antigua & Barbuda Independent Tourism Promotion Corporation, and author of numerous books about Caribbean diving, objected that the Cuban dolphins were imported in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Meanwhile, summarized Ontario dolphin defender Gwen McKenna, "Dolphin Fantaseas persuaded the Antigua & Barbuda government to grant them a permit to capture 'up to 12 dolphins annually from Antiguan waters in the event that the current sources of supply are unable to provide this number of animals per year,' and a permit to export these dolphins."

"The government was sold a dirty and misleading bill of goods," charged Watkins-Gilkes. "In public debate Dolphin Fantaseas managing director Arthur Bud stated that they would employ more than 20 Antiguans. How many Antiguans are employed two years later?"

Attorney John Eli Fuller in Nov-ember 2003 sued the Antigua & Barbuda attorney general, Mezzanotte, and Dolphin Fantaseas on behalf of Watkins-Gilkes and the ABITPC. The Antigua & Barbuda cabinet revoked the capture permit before the case went to court.

"While the main issue has been resolved," Watkins-Gilkes told ANIMAL PEOPLE, "it is unclear if the law suit will be dropped.

There is [also] still the question of the wrongful importation of the three Cuban dolphins. It is hoped," she added, "that this case will have a positive impact throughout the Caribbean islands." Antigua and Barbuda, together with Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, consistently align themselves at the annual meetings of the International Whaling Commission in support of Japanese-led efforts to weaken or rescind the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, along with the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. All are recipients of Japanese foreign aid.

Mexican bust

As many as 200 dolphins were captured in waters surrounding the Solomon Islands in July 2003 for sale to exhibition and swim-with-dolphins venues, during a lawless interim between a failed coup attempt and the arrival of Australian peacekeeping troops. Photographers and videographers documenting the captures and the resultant deaths of several dolphins were chased and threatened, and in one instance a videographer's boatman was severely beaten, wrote London Daily Telegraph correspondent Alex Spillius.

The captures were organized by Waves Consulting, apparently formed by Christopher Porter, 34, a Canadian whose wife is reportedly a Solomon Islander. Porter previously handled marine mammals at Sea-land of the Pacific in Victoria, British Colum-bia, now defunct; the Vancouver Aquarium; and the Aquario di Genova in Italy.

Just before the Australian peacekeepers arrived, Waves Consulting flew 28 dolphins to the Parque Nizuc swim-with complex in Cancun, Mexico. Greenpeace alleged that 33 dolphins were actually loaded aboard the aircraft, and one dolphin soon afterward died at Parque Nizuc.

"The International Fund for Animals launched a thorough investigation, which proved that the operation constituted a gross violation of several national and international laws," publicist Kerry Branon and Latin American affairs director Beatrice Bugeda of IFAW recounted on February 17, 2004.

"In November 2003, IFAW presented the results of its investigation to the Mexican authorities, demanding that charges be brought against those responsible for the import of the dolphins. [On January 22, 2004] The Ministry of Public Office, the equivalent of a federal comptroller, admitted that both the dolphin importation and permits were illegal, announcing actions against former deputy environment minister Raul Arriaga and 27 other current and former officials."

The dolphin transaction turned out to be among the smallest of Arriaga's alleged misdeeds, at least in numbers of animals. "In the course of reviewing government records and other documents," Branon wrote, "IFAW discovered hunting permits had been illegally issued for countless species across the country."

Altogether, the Arriaga administration "issued illegal hunting permits leading to the slaughter of more than 2.5 million animals over the last two years," Branon charged. "IFAW will be following these cases closely," pledged Bugeda. "We are hopeful that this decision signals increased political will and vigilance regarding laws protecting animals and the environment.

Not captive-born

Louis Ng of the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society in Singapore met with less official cooperation in January 2004, after establishing that at least three of the endangered Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins kept at Underwater World Singapore were not born in captivity as Underwater World declared on their import permits. The Haw Park Corporation, the Underwater World parent firm, claimed when it bought six dolphins from a Thai marine mammal park in 1999 that all were captive-born, but the Thai facility first acquired dolphins in 1988. Four of the six imported dolphins, one of them now deceased, were therefore too old to have been born in captivity.

The Singapore Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority acknowledged that the paperwork on the transaction was incorrect, but contended that it was not in violation of CITES because the dolphins were brought in for educational and breeding purposes, rather than for commerce. Campaigning for the release of the dolphins since 2001, Ng told Lee Hui Chieh of The Straits Times that he had asked the CITES secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland to investigate.

Attracting more than 18 million visitors since opening in 2001, Underwater World is a major economic enterprise, whether or not it acknowledges a commercial interest in dolphin exhibition. It is, however, also a conventional oceanarium, offering essentially the same combination of fish tanks and a marine mammal show that Marineland of Florida introduced to the world in 1949, after 11 years of operating as a film studio.

$$ are in swim-with The big money in marine mammal exhibition these days is in offering opportunities to swim with dolphins. Sea World has more-or-less cornered the market within the U.S., where the operating requirements are strict and obtaining dolphins has become relatively difficult, but swim-with operations are popping up almost more rapidly than dolphin defenders can count them.

Soon after Gwen McKenna received confirmation from Watkins-Gilkes that Antigua & Bermuda had revoked John Mezzanotte's capture permits, for example, she learned and relayed to ANIMAL PEOPLE that, "A dolphin display permit is being sought by a newly formed company called Bermuda Dolphin Oasis. Sources in Bermuda have informed me," McKenna continued, "that Lynn Hassell and her husband Martin are behind it. Hassell is the CEO of Dolphin Fantaseas and one of the largest shareholders. She has lived and worked in Bermuda for many years. Prior to working for Dolphin Fantaseas, she held a senior position at Bermuda Dolphin Quest.

Hassell insists this is a local project in Bermuda and has nothing to do with Dolphin Fantaseas," McKenna added. "There is very little information available on the application. Hassell said that the dolphins would be collected from a new aquarium which didn't want its name known."

Conventional oceanariums tend to keep just a handful of reliable performing dolphins, and perhaps some non-performing mates or offspring. Only a few dolphins amuse multitudes. Keeping more dolphins than necessary may be an economic liability.

Swim-with facilities, on the other hand, are limited in income potential--at least so far--mostly by the numbers of dolphins they can provide. The more dolphins the operators have, the more time with dolphins they can sell. This has created a greater demand for captive dolphins than ever before.

Trainers at Taiji

The good news in the situation is that the more familiar people become with dolphins through either conventional oceanariums or swim-with facilities, the more likely they are to oppose whaling, killing dolphins for meat, and fishing methods that are known to harm dolphins.

In Japan right now, as in the U.S. and Europe a generation ago, "save-the-whales" perspectives are rising parallel to the growth in attendance at as many as 49 marine mammal entertainment venues--even though, according to Ric O'Barry, none of them educate visitors about marine mammal exploitation of any kind. The bad news is that most of the dolphins exhibited in Japan, and elsewhere in Asia, appear to have been purchased from the so-called "drive fisheries" of Taiji and Iki islands, off Japan.

Dolphin-selling has put serious money into the traditional roundups and massacres of dolphins who are blamed by local fishers for the ever more acute scarcity of over-exploited fish stocks.

For example, Sakae Fujiwara of the Elsa Nature Conservancy e-mailed in October 2003, the Ask Japan Corporation began developing a planned "dolphin therapy" center at Sanuki, in Kagawa prefecture, by purchasing two dolphins from Taiji. They later bought three more, two of whom soon died, and formed a parallel nonprofit, the Japan Dolphin Assisted Therapy Association, in 2002.

The project was delayed by difficulty in securing investment capital late in 2003, but that scarcely inhibited the bidding by others at Taiji, reported Ric O'Barry.

"About 50 dolphin trainers gathered in Taiji to select the best-looking of the captured dolphins, allowing the rejects to be slaughtered by the whalers. The capture and selection process was appalingly violent," O'Barry e-mailed after his second visit of the winter to the scene of the killing. "Panic-stricken dolphins were dragged ashore with ropes. Beached animals accidentally beat each other up in the frenzy as they tried to get back into the water. Mothers and babies were separated by force. The trainers simply stood by and watched as some of the dolphins, in an effort to escape, got entangled in the capture nets and suffocated. Some of these trainers are members of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association," O'Barry charged, recognizing them from past encounters.

Representing the French organization One Voice, Ric and Helene O'Barry obtained video footage of two westerners among the group.

"If dolphin captivity was not fueling the dolphin slaughter by buying dolphins, the slaughter would have a very hard time surviving," said One Voice founder Muriel Arnal. Actually the slaughter is so politically and culturally entrenched, and the fishers so much prefer blaming dolphins for depleted fish stocks instead of themselves, that the drive fisheries, like the annual Atlantic Canada seal massacre, are likely to continue until the balance of national political interests quits favoring traditional practices in backward regions. But that might happen faster in both Taiji and Atlantic Canada if selling dolphins and seal byproducts did not produce at least the illusion that the massacres are lucrative.

West African capture?

Others may also be cashing in, or hoping to. E-mails from several different sources, each forwarding information apparently obtained by the marine mammal protection organization Oceanium-Narou Heuleuk, of Dakar, Senegal, claimed in late January that a mass round-up of dolphins was anticipated off Guinea Bissau, West Africa. The first e-mail, dated January 23, claimed that the captures were already started.

The next, dated January 26, said "Indications are that the capture has not begun, but if it occurs, it will take place in the Bissagos archipelago. A caller who wished to remain anonymous, who is a long-time insider and has first hand knowledge of the situation, stated that the financier of this take is the same person who was involved in the mass dolphin capture in the Solomon Islands." No confirmation was available for any of this, nor for additional details supplied by Oceanium-Narou Heuleuk.

The Lisbon Zoo and the Portuguese amusement park Zoomarine were unsuccessful in December 2001 in an attempt to get permits to import 10 dolphins from Guinea-Bissau. Not clear is whether any of the dolphins were actually captured then.

-- M.C.


Merritt Clifton
P.O. Box 960
Clinton, WA 98236

Tel: 360-579-2505
Fax: 360-579-2575

[ANIMAL PEOPLE is the leading independent newspaper providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide, founded in 1992. Our readership of 30,000-plus includes the decision-makers at more than 9,900 animal protection organizations. We have no alignment or affiliation with any other entity.]


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Diving Guide 1
2 3 Island Guide Shipwrecks SCUBA Expeditions Bio

Women Divers' Hall of Fame
• • Elected President WDHOF • • WDHOF Report
United Nations Environment Program
• • Hurricane Hunting 1 2 • • 2010 Diver Of the Year 12
Dolphin Rescue Articles 1
2 3a 3b 4 • • CSI Whales Alive! • • Explorers' Club 2001 Dinners 200120062010
With the President of the Phillipines
• • Wyland Icon Award • • Press Releases 1 2 3

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