Will wild orca capture and Makah whaling resume on Puget Sound?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2002:

SEATTLE, SHIMONSEKI– Decisions announced on May 24, 2002
by the National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington D.C. and the
International Whaling Commission in Shimonseki, Japan, hint that
the next big battles over both whale captivity and whale-hunting
might be fought on Puget Sound, Washington state.
But again, maybe not, as the issues of captivity and
“cultural subsistence” whaling that sparked high-profile protest in
the mid-1990s have all but dropped from public view.

NMFS authorized capture of a young female orca called A-73.
She will be the first orca captured in U.S. waters since six were
caught in Budd Inlet, just below the Washington state capitol
building in Olympia, on March 8, 1976.
Those were the last orcas captured by oceanarium supplier Don
Goldsberry, whose seven-year series of roundups of orcas for sale
were finally stopped by Washington state legislation introduced on
March 9, 1976.
A-73, by contrast, will be captured in hopes of returning
her to her pod in the Johnstone Strait, off Vancouver Island,
British Columbia, to eventually reproduce and help conserve the
declining Pacific Northwest orca population.
Half the world away, a few hours later, the IWC agreed to
allow the Makah tribe of Neah Bay, Washington, to kill up to 20
grey whales over the next four years, and to allow the Caribbean
nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to kill four whales per
year, twice as many as the former quota.
The IWC voted 30-14 on May 23 and 32-11 on May 24, however,
to deny indigenous subsistence whaling permits to the Alaskan Eskimo
tribes and the Russian Chukchi, who initially sought a five-year
combined total quota of 580 bowhead whales.
In recent years the Eskimo and Chukchi have usually obtained
combined quotas, since they are related people who hunt the same
whale populations, and have then aportioned the exact numbers among
When the combined quota request was rejected, the Russian
and American delegations separately requested quotas of up to 120
whales per year for the Chukchi and 55 total over five years for the
Eskimos. That too was denied.
“Despite the actions taken by the IWC,” said Congressional
Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), “the Alaska Eskimo Whaling
Commission will continue their harvest under domestic regulations
until this can be corrected by the IWC.”
The Chukchi are considered likely to continue whaling as well.
The U.S. is expected to petition the IWC for a re-vote,
either by mail or at a special meeting to be convened later this year.
Unlike the Makah, who killed their only whale in 74 years
during May 1999, the Eskimo bands who live along the Beaufort and
Bering Sea are still heavy whale-eaters, and depend upon hunting of
various kinds for most of their diet. The Chukchi reputedly kill
whales mainly to feed foxes on fur farms.
The IWC rejection of authorization for Eskimo and Chukchi
whaling came after the membership refused to grant indigenous
subsistence whaling quotas of 50 whales each to four Japanese coastal
towns which have never before held subsistence whaling quotas.
The Japanese delegation came into the 54th annual meeting of
the IWC hoping that hosting the meeting in Shimonseki, the
historical home of the Japanese whaling fleet, would coincide with
lifting the international moratorium on commercial whaling which has
been in effect since 1986. Japan did not actually comply with the
ban until 1988–and even then continued to kill minke whales in the
name of doing scientific research.
The self-assigned Japanese “research whaling” quota for 2002
includes 440 minke whales to be killed within the boundaries of the
Southern Oceans Whale Sanctuary declared by the IWC in 1994, plus
100 minkes, 50 Bryde’s whales, 50 sei whales, and 10 giant sperm
whales to be killed in the North Pacific: 550 whales in all.
New IWC members Benin, Cape Verde, Gabon, Palau, and
Mongolia were expected to vote with Japan, along with Iceland.
Benin and Gabon are among 10 small African and Caribbean
nations which among them divide about $78.1 million in Japanese
“fisheries aid” per year.
Iceland withdrew from the IWC in 1992 rather than comply with
the whaling moratorium, but sought to rejoin on condition of being
allowed to claim an exemption, similar to the reservation that Norway
has maintained for coastal whaling while remaining an IWC member all
Norway resumed whaling in 1993, and has set a 2002 quota for
itself of 674 minkes. Norway also intends to kill 60 Atlantic
whitesided and white-beaked dolphins, to study the relationship
between their population and the decline of fish stocks.
New IWC members opposed to whaling included Portugal and San
Marino, but the anti-whaling side lost Costa Rica, Kenya, and
Senegal because of unpaid dues, and Panama reportedly switched to
the pro-whaling side.

Japan loses at IWC

Nonetheless, Iceland was excluded from voting, 25-20. The
Japanese proposal to end the moratorium on commercial whaling was
defeated, 25-16.
Australia and New Zealand failed for the third time to win
the 75% majority needed to create a proposed South Pacific whale
sanctuary, but did poll 60%, at 24-16.
Coinciding with the IWC meeting, Mexico, French Polynesia,
and Papua New Guinea each declared their national waters to be whale
The only apparent gain for the pro-whalers came when the IWC
membership fee structure was amended to a formula which links dues to
the wealth of nations, instead of setting them at a uniform level.
This amendment will permit more small nations to join–but more
anti-whaling nations could join or rejoin, too.
Frustrated throughout the meeting, the Japanese and allied
delegations retaliated against the Eskimo and Chukchi by taking the
same side as many anti-whaling delegations which have sought to
restrain subsistence whaling for decades.
“The IWC voted to ban Eskimo whaling in 1977,” remembered
Anchorage Daily News reporter Tom Kizzia. “Concerns were raised
about low population estimates, increasing subsistence effort [made
possible by power boats and firearms], and reports of high numbers
of struck and lost whales.”
The Jimmy Carter administration negotiated IWC permission for
the Eskimos to kill 12 whales per year.
Subsequent U.S. delegations to the IWC won higher quotas by
arguing that the western Actic bowhead whale population has increased
from as few as 2,000 to perhaps 10,000–although the bowhead
population in the eastern part of the Canadian Arctic is now down to
just a few hundred. Several bowheads killed in recent years in the
eastern Arctic have turned out to be among the oldest mammals on
record, of any species, while juveniles seem to be almost absent.

Makah may not hunt

The Makah, with apparent Japanese encouragement, began
seeking to resume whaling in 1995, as soon as Pacific grey whales
were taken off the U.S. endangered species list. The Makah right to
kill whales was stipulated in the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay, which
brought the tribe into the U.S., but members had last killed a whale
in 1928, and had hunted whales only sporadically for several decades.
The Japanese whaling industry saw the Makah revival of
whaling as an important precedent for their own bid to resume coastal
whaling, after a long lapse, likewise in the name of cultural
tradition. The depth of the Japanese coastal whaling tradition has
been contested, however, with some authorities arguing that it only
started in earnest at about the same time that the Makah quit, after
having hunted grey whales for centuries.
On May 17, in Tacoma, Washing-ton, U.S. District Judge
Franklin Burgess reaffirmed the Makah right to kill whales, after
briefly suspending the authorization to hunt granted by NMFS while
reviewing a Fund for Animals petition that sought to stop the hunt.
The latest of several similar Burgess rulings came the same
day that the NMFS National Marine Mammal Laboratory at Sand Point,
Washington, disclosed that the Eastern Pacific grey whale population
has plummeted from a recent high of 26,700 during the winter of
1997-1998, to approximately 17,414, within a range between 14,322
and 21,174. Despite the imprecision of the count, which reflects
the difficulty of accurately censusing any marine species, the
current total is almost certainly the lowest of the past 20 years.
Responsible for monitoring grey whale calving off the coast
of California and Mexico, NMFS biologist Wayne Perryman of the
Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, said
that recorded birthings fell from 1,388 in 1998 to 427 in 1999 and
280 in each of the past two years. Perryman speculated that the poor
reproduction reflected food scarcity at the northern end of the grey
whale range. He blamed heavy ice packs in Alaskan waters–but grey
whales are bottom feeders, who depend heavily on mollusks, and the
real problem may be damage to the sea bed caused by dragnet fishing.
Whether the Makah will actually try to kill any whales this
year–or ever again– remains unclear. There is talk of whaling in
Neah Bay. At least three families have reportedly expressed interest
in forming whaling crews, and two of them are said to have begun
actively training.
“But even as the greys meander in near-shore waters,”
Seattle Times staff reporter Linda V. Mapes wrote in April, “no
whaling permits have been issued this year. New Makah council
leaders have slashed funding for whaling, arguing that other needs
are more pressing. The U.S. government,” after putting $360,000
into the first Makah whale hunt, “says it has no plans to help pay
for another hunt. The Makah Whaling Commiss-ion office is shuttered,
with a budget of zero.”
The flotilla led by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
that tried to keep the Makah from killing a whale from late 1996
until mid-1999 is even less in evidence. At the height of the
anti-Makah whaling campaign, the Sea Shepherds moved their
headquarters from Santa Monica, California, to Friday Harbor on San
Juan Island in Puget Sound. They returned to Santa Monica more than
a year ago, however, and during the past two years have been active
mainly against shark poachers and other illegal fishers in the waters
surrounding the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island, off Ecuador and
Costa Rica.

Hot Cocos campaign

The Cocos Island campaign became legally and politically
messy on April 22 after the Sea Shepherd vessel Farley Mowat
(formerly the Ocean Warrior) intercepted the Guatemalan fishing boat
Varadero I with 28 miles of baited longlines in nominally protected
Guatemalan waters.
Claiming to have been instructed by Guatemalan environmental
authorities to escort the much smaller Varadero I to San Jose,
Guatemala, the Sea Shepherds spent six hours hauling in the
longlines, and took the Varadero I in tow, but released it after
rough weather made the towing dangerous. The Varadero I attempted an
The Sea Shepherds “deployed water hoses in the direction of
the fishing vessel and fired one flare into the air,” a Sea Shepherd
press release stated. “The captain of the Varadero I steered into
the side of the Ocean Warrior and the two vessels collided.”
A still photo by Sea Shepherd crew member Isobel Alexander,
posted at the Sea Shepherd web site, was inconclusive, however,
and the reputation that captain Paul Watson has cultivated over the
years for ramming illegal whaling and fishing vessels–even selling
baseball caps with the Sea Shepherd logo and the motto “Ram
speed!”–worked against him.
The Varadero I returned to San Jose alone, apparently asking
by radio for help from the Guatemalan navy. The Sea Shepherds
changed course to put in at Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
“Upon arrival in Puntarenas it was reported that the crew of
the Varadero I complained that they were attacked violently with guns
and explosives,” the Sea Shepherds said. “This is untrue. The Sea
Shepherds did not use any guns or explosives at any time.”
Posting a bond of $850 pending any filing of actual charges,
the Farley Mowat returned to Cocos Island to participate in a litter
clean-up and negotiate a contract to do anti-poaching patrols that
the Sea Shepherds said was offered by Costa Rican officials on April
30. As of May 23, it still was not signed.
“Captain Watson reported Taiwanese fishers illegally laying
over 20 miles of longline around Cocos Island,” and “said there are
hundreds of illegal fishing boats destroying the wildlife and
ecosystems” of the island, wrote Sea Shepherd press officer Lori
Pye. “The crew was prohibited from directly intervening,” Pye
added, by “corruption in the judicial system, with four different
prosecutors and three different judges interfering with the original
decision to dismiss all charges against Paul Watson and the Sea
Shepherds after viewing video of the Varadero I incident.”

Capturing A-73

The Sea Shepherds have rarely involved themselves in cetacean
captivity issues. The Progressive Animal Welfare Society and some of
the smaller organizations involved in protesting against Makah
whaling have histories of actively protesting against captivity, but
if any intend to try to block the capture of A-73, they have not yet
said so.
Orphaned in late 2001 by the death of her mother, A-45,
A-73 was apparently left behind by the A-pod, whose summer waters
are the Johnstone Strait, off Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
She appeared by herself in mid-January in the ferry lane between
Vashon Island and Seattle, toward the southern end of the sound,
and has remained close to the ferry boats ever since, sometimes also
approaching small craft and rubbing against floating logs, as if
seeking surrogates for her missing family.
A-73 has the internal parasites common to her species, a
skin disease called “killer whale pox,” not considered serious, and
a breath odor called ketosis, which can indicate starvation,
diabetes, or other metabolic problems–but blood tests indicate that
none of those conditions are causing the ketosis, and she seems
healthier, overall, than anyone imagined a lone young orca could be.
The capture strategy will be to enclose A-73 somehow in a sea
pen, more accurately diagnose her ailments, treat them, transport
her to the Johnstone Strait, and release her to join the A-pod when
they next return to the vicinity, probably in mid-July.
Whether A-pod will accept A-73 back among them is anyone’s
guess. No one has ever returned an orca to her pod before after a
prolonged separation. Goldsberry released some of the orcas he
captured at Penn Cove, Whidbey Island, during his roundups in the
early 1970s, but the uncaptured remnants of their pods had remained
within earshot of the captives in the Saratoga Passage.

Keiko & Lolita

The much publicized attempt to return to the wild the orca
Keiko, star of the 1993 film Free Willy!, has so far cost between
$15 million and $23 million, a variety of sources estimate.
Captured at about age two, and now 24 to 25 years old, near the
upper end of the normal male orca lifespan, Keiko still is not
successfully feeding himself, has apparently not socialized or
communicated with the wild orcas he has encountered in two years of
supervised open-ocean swims, and except for free swimming time,
will probably spend the rest of his days in the sea pen at Klettsvik,
Iceland, where he has resided since September 1998.
Cell telephone system entrepreneur Craig McCaw reportedly put
$10 million into the Free Willy! effort between 1993 and 2001, but
withdrew after the value of his holdings in XO Communications dropped
from $5.3 billion to $3.2 million between March 2000 and March 2002,
the Seattle Times reported. This forced Ocean Futures, formerly
called the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation, to cut the annual
rehabilitation-and-release project budget from $1.8 million to
$500,000–meaning no more following Keiko and wild orcas aboard a
comfortable 100-foot yacht, and no more use of a leased helicopter.
Earth Island Institute initially sponsored the effort to return Keiko
to the wild, but spun off the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation as a
separate entity in 1994.
“As it searches for ways to keep the multi-million-dollar
project afloat, Ocean Futures has put the Humane Society of the U.S.
at the top of its dance card. In addition, Ocean Futures has talked
to another longtime supporter, Craig McCaw’s ex-wife Wendy,” Katy
Muldoon of the Portland Oregonian reported on May 23. Muldoon has
followed the story more closely, for longer, than any other
When Free Willy! boosted Keiko into prominence, the orcas
considered the best candidates for release were the last of those
captured by Goldsberry on Puget Sound, named Corky, Yaka, and
Lolita, because their pods were known and they seemed to respond to
recorded sounds from relatives. The three Free Willy! movies were
set on Puget Sound, in fact, with scenic shots of Whidbey Island,
because the story line was inspired by the campaigns waged on behalf
of Corky, Yaka, and Lolita.
Only Lolita is still alive. Netted at Penn Cove in 1970, at
about age 6, she was sold to the Miami Sequarium. When Lolita
arrived in Miami, her tank was the second-largest ever built. Today
it is among the oldest and smallest tanks still used to hold an orca.
The increasingly evident obsolesence of the Seaquarium gave
momentum to the “Free Lolita!” campaign waged by Dolphin Freedom
Foundation, Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, Orca Conservancy,
and other groups, but as the Free Willy! project failed, interest
in freeing Lolita faded.
In August 2001 the Seaquarium announced that it had obtained
the permits needed to build a $17.5 million four-pool complex for
Lolita, five times as large as her present tank. The Seaquarium
management claims the project is on schedule; “Free Lolita!”
crusaders say it is invisible. Either way, if the complex is built,
other whales are likely to occupy it. In theory Lolita could live to
age 50 or beyond, but she has already lived longer than any other
whale in captivity.

Vancouver Aquarium

Experience with A-73, rather than with Keiko and Lolita,
will influence future decision-making about L-98, a lone young male
orca who somehow separated from the San Juan Islands pod and has
lived since fall 2001 along the west wide of Vancouver Island.
Before the separations of A-73 and L-98, observations of
juvenile orcas living alone were few and mostly unconfirmed.
Despite the stated intent of NMFS, the Canadian Department
of Oceans and Fisheries, and the Vancouver Aquarium, who will form
the nucleus of the capture-and-transport team, there is a chance
that A-73 may end up in an oceanarium if she cannot be reunited with
her pod successfully.
Vancouver Aquarium director Jon Nightingale was vocal
throughout May about the slow pace of the NMFS decision-making.
“Since March 1, NMFS has been hemming and hawing,”
Nightingale charged on May 15 to Keith Fraser of the Vancouver
Province. Nightingale said that the Vancouver Aquarium does not
have the several hundred thousand dollars that he estimated the
capture would cost, and added that the delay had “pretty well killed
off the fundraising option. When it was fresh in people’s minds and
was novel,” he continued, “there would have been an outpouring of
public support. Now that it has gone on for so long, I don’t expect
you’d be able to raise any significant amount of money from the
general public.”
The plan for capture and attempted reintroduction was
endorsed by longtime captivity opponents Paul Spong and Helena
Symonds of OrcaLab, who suggested that A-73 should be held to await
the A-pod in a small isolated bay near the OrcaLab headquarters on
Hanson Island.
The views of other captivity critics are less certain–even
though Nightingale denied that the Vancouver Aquarium would keep A-73
if she remains in permanent care.
A plan for bringing A-73 back to the Johnstone Strait was
advanced in March by Peter Hamilton of the British Columbia activist
group Lifeforce, backed by Vancouver park commission member Roslyn
Cassells. But the Hamilton plan made no mention of the Vancouver
Aquarium, and expressed doubt that A-73 needs rescuing.
Prefaced Cassells, distributing the Hamilton plan via
Internet, “With public opinion turning against the captivity
industry, institutions such as the Vancouver Aquarium and Seaworld
are greenwashing their planned capture” of A-73, which she hinted
might actually be for exhibit or sale.
The idea of capturing A-73 for return to Canadian waters
coincided with the application of SeaWorld San Diego for a NMFS
permit to import the Vancouver Aquarium beluga Imaq, who was
captured near Churchill, Manitoba, in 1980.
Charged Annalise Sorg of the Coalition For No Whales In
Captivity, “For decades the Vacouver Aquarium has laundered
wild-caught whales into the U.S., where restrictions stop SeaWorld
from capturing wild marine mammals.”
Sorg cited the April 1997 transfer to SeaWorld of a male
beluga named Nanuq, and the 2001 transfer of the female orca Bjossa.
Nanuq was moved, however, and Imaq is to be moved, in keeping with
mating protocols formed by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks &
Aquariums in September 1996. Bjossa was moved after her longtime
companion Finna died in October 1997, and–despite a multi-year
search–the Vancouver Aquarium was unable to find another captive
orca companion for her.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans recommended in 1992
and 1999, said Sorg, that the Vancouver Aquarium “should stop
breeding and importing whales and dolphins because their facilities
do not meet minimum standards.”
The Vancouver Parks Board has repeatedly blocked Vancouver
Aquarium expansion requests, and has attempted to prevent the
aquarium from obtaining whales and dolphins to replace those who have
died or been transferred. However, in July 2001 the Vancouver
Aquarium acquired a dolphin from Osaka, Japan, who according to
Sorg may have been captured in a “drive fishery,” in which dolphins
are chased into shallow water to be massacred.

Six Flags gets an orca

The Vancouver Aquarium might have been able to obtain
additional orcas if it had been able to pay the price–as Six Flags
Worlds of Adventure is now doing.
Six Flags bought the former SeaWorld site at Aurora, Ohio,
in January 2001, without the three resident orcas, who were moved
to other SeaWorld locations. After operating without orcas for a
year, during which the park was often “nearly empty” according to
Karen Farkas of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Six Flags won NMFS
permission to import Shouka, an 8-year-old female from Marineland
Antibes in France, and Kshament, a 10-year-old male from Acuario
Mundo Marino in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on long-term breeding
Shouka arrived on May 20, 2002, but Argentina has not yet
issued a permit required by the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species for the transfer of Kshament. Acuario Mundo
Marino claims Kshament was rescued as a stranding victim in 1992.
Opponents of the transfer reportedly contend that he was driven
“We are worried that an illegal trade in ‘rescued’ marine
mammals may be starting in our country,” wrote Wild Earth Foundation
of Argentina president Garbriela Marina Bellazzi to the National
Marine Fisheries Service and several U.S. activist groups and
newspapers. NMFS approved the import on May 17, but Farkas hinted
that the approval might be challenged in court by the Humane Society
of the U.S. and Earth Island Institute.

Ric O’Barry

Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry, who began his cetacean
freedom efforts with an unsuccessful attempt to release a dolphin
from a laboratory in the Bahamas on Earth Day 1970, is still as
active as ever.
Now a fulltime employee of the World Society for the
Protection of Animals, O’Barry in August 2001 released back to the
wild two bottlenose dolphins who had been rescued from a traveling
show in Guatemala.
The German Dolphin Conservation Society and German
Association of Scuba Divers meanwhile persuaded Egyptian authorities
to block the proposed acquisition of two bottlenose dolphins from the
Black Sea for a shallow dolphinarium/amphitheatre at the Sindbad
Beach Resort in Hurghada–a project O’Barry had criticized.
In November 2001, O’Barry was refused entry into Antigua,
on alleged grounds of “national security,” when he tried to draw
attention to the opening of a reportedly very small facility called
Dolphin Fantaseas.
“Dolphin Fantaseas owns a tank in Anguilla which until
recently housed six wild-caught Cuban dolphins. Three of those
dolphins were flown to this new site in Antigua,” Canadian cetacean
freedom advocate Gwen McKenna told ANIMAL PEOPLE, after a visit to
Antigua to see what was what.
Although Dolphin Fantaseas had imported Cuban dolphins,
McKenna added, the Antiguan government authorized one John
Mezzanotte “to capture up to 12 dolphins annually from Antiguan
waters for export.” This raised suspicions that O’Barry and McKenna
took to the U.S. Treasury Depart-ment, alleging that American
dolphin swim promoters in Anguilla and Antigua may be violating the
U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba.
“There is an open investigation,” U.S. Customs Service
special agent Robert Fernandez confirmed in February to Charles D.
Sherman of the Miami Herald. “If there is a U.S. citizen, U.S.
resident, or U.S. entity involved [in buying Cuban dolphins], it
would be a violation.”
Continued Sherman, “The Cuban Minister of Science and
Technology and its National Aquarium in Havana, where Che Guevara’s
38-year-old daughter Celia is the chief marine mammal veterinarian,
have captured a lucrative market for the animals, not only in the
Caribbean for also in Europe. The official figures reported by
Havana show 82 dolphin sales in the last five years, making
Cuba the world’s leading exporter.”

Dolphins or bust

The U.S. marine mammal exhibition industry continued a long
contraction phase in August 2001 when the 15-year-old Aquaticus
exhibit at the Oklahoma City Zoo closed, after experiencing four
dolphin deaths in three years because of bacterial contamination that
the zoo was unable to eliminate.
But the contraction phase may be close to reversing, as in
September 2001, after eight years of deliberation, the Texas State
Aquarium in Corpus Christi announced that it will build a $14 million
dolphinarium, to open in 2003.
Aquarium managers have discovered during the past decade that
even though captive whales and dolphins are a magnet for protest,
trying to operate without them can be a prescription for collapse,
exemplified by the woes of Colorado’s Ocean Journey.
In 1992-1993, as Ocean Journey was still in planning, the
then nearly penniless group Animal Rights Mobilization traded use of
an 18,000-name mailing list for advertising space in ANIMAL PEOPLE to
promote “No Dolphins In Denver,” a campaign to persuade Ocean
Journey that it should never exhibit any cetacean species. The
ANIMAL PEOPLE ads were all the publicity anywhere that ARM could
procure, but Ocean Journey took the pledge. The star attractions
when Ocean Journey opened in June 1999 were a Bali mynah, 10 sharks,
three Sumatran tigers, two sea otters, and three river otters.
First-year Ocean Journey attendance fell short of
expectations, and then fell by more than half. Defaulting on debts
of $63 million in June 2001, Ocean Journey announced in March 2002
that it would close permanently on April 2. Staff began seeking
alternative placement of 8,000 fish, mammals, amphibians,
reptiles, and birds, representing about 500 species.
At the last minute a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, $1 million
offered on a matching basis by Advance Geophysical software company
cofounder Barbara Bridges, and $500,000 given by the family of Ocean
Journey diver Bruce Kelley kept the doors open, but the longterm
survival and viability of the facility is still far from assured.
Marineland of Florida by contrast made a rousing comeback
from the possible brink of demolition.
Built in 1937 as an underwater film studio, and opened to
the public in 1940, Marineland of Florida is regarded as the first
modern oceanarium. Allowed to deteriorate through several changes of
ownership during the 1990s, Marineland of Florida went bankrupt in
April 1998 with debts of $9.7 million, and almost went under for
keeps after temporarily closing to visitors in November 1998.
But it still had 18 bottlenose dolphins. Nine were sold to
SeaWorld at Orlando for $1.25 million as part of a $2.6 million
bankruptcy settlement, and were transferred in March 2001. The rest
were acquired by an investment group called Marine Park of Flagler.
Reopened in March 1999, after beginning ongoing renovations
and improvements, Marineland of Florida is reportedly now attracting
more people than at any time since before the first Free Willy! film
was made, and has had three recent dolphin births as result of a
captive breeding program begun in March 2001.
A decade ago, captive dolphins were in oversupply, but no
dolphins have been captured for exhibition in U.S. waters since 1990,
while attrition and the growth of swim-with-dolphins facilities have
markedly increased demand.

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