Haiti says no to dolphin captivity
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2004:
PORT AU PRINCE–Six dolphins caught for exhibition in mid-May
by a Haitian firm with Spanish backing swam free on June 3 through
the intercession of Haitian environment minister Yves Andre
Wainwright and agriculture minister Philippe Mathieu.
Wainwright and Mathieu intervened at request of Dolphin
Project founder Ric O’Barry, whose 35-year-old effort to liberate
captive dolphins has operated since the beginning of 2004 under the
auspices of the French organization One Voice.
With a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat maintaining security,
O’Barry and Guillermo Lopez, DVM, of the Dominican Republic Academy
of the Sciences dismantled the sea pen holding the dolphins.
Wife Helene O’Barry and Jane Regan of Associated Press snapped
digital photos from the beach.
The liberation marked the rejection of dolphin capturing as a
commercial enterprise in one of the poorest nations in the world,
even as entrepreneurs from other island nations rush to cash in on
the boom in marketing swim-with-dolphins tourist attractions.
The liberation also demonstrated the resolve of the present
Haitian government to start enforcing conservation laws that long
went ignored by their predecessors, as a succession of shaky regimes
have struggled to uphold any law and order at all.
Ric O’Barry flew to Haiti after One Voice received a tip on
May 18 that eight bottlenose dolphins had been impounded in a shallow
sea pen in the Arcadins Islands. O’Barry reached the scene on May 23.
Flash flooding and mudslides elsewhere in Haiti on May 26
killed at least 2,000 Haitians and displaced 40,000.
Meeting with O’Barry on June 2, “Mr. Matthieu highlighted
the connection between the recent flooding disaster and the dolphin
capture,” O’Barry recounted. “He pointed out that more than 90% of
Haiti is deforested, mainly because most of its eight million
inhabitants need charcoal to cook. When there are no roots in
the ground to reduce runoff and hold the topsoil, the pouring rain
runs freely down the mountains, slamming into villages along with
debris, mud, and gravel.”
O’Barry said Mattieu told him, “We need to find alternative
ways of surviving in order to ensure both our own future and that of
the environment. The same could be said about the dolphin issue.
Allowing entrepreneurs to profit from the misery of our natural
treasures is not going to solve any of our problems. Giving the
dolphins their freedom back is the right thing to do, both for the
dolphins and for the people of Haiti.”
The World Society for the Protection of Animals sponsored
Lopez’ presence, in case veterinary help or persuasion of Haitian
officials was needed, but Matthieu and Wainwright had already
authorized the release before Lopez arrived.
The dolphins required no pre-release treatment, although
O’Barry noted that most had “rake marks” and “stretcher burns” from
conflict with each other in the sea pen and rough handling–but eight
dolphins were captured, and two had died, O’Barry learned from Jose
Roy, whose company, called Action Haiti, arranged their capture.
Action Haiti, not to be confused with the UNICEF relief
project Humanitarian Action Haiti and the pro-Aristide political
group Haiti Action, applied for a permit to capture 10 dolphins on
December 22, 2003.
“On February 2, 2004,” 27 days before former President Jean
Baptiste Aristide was forced from office after five years of
increasing strife, “the permit was approved and issued to Alexandre
Paul, the lawyer representing Action Haiti,” O’Barry wrote.
Haitian law required a population study prior to issuing a
dolphin capture permit. That condition was not met.
The capture permit also stipulated that the dolphins were not
to be sold or transported out of Haiti, and could only be used for
purposes associated with “education and tourism” within Haiti.
“There are very few tourists coming to Haiti, and it is
highly questionable if a tourist attraction is at all viable in this
location,” O’Barry observed.
When O’Barry, Wainwright, and others met on May 22,
O’Barry said, “Everyone at the meeting seemed to think that Action
Haiti might try selling the dolphins to another facility,”
presumably after obtaining a transfer permit which Wainwright said
would not be granted.
After initially refusing to allow O’Barry and Wainwright to
view the dolphins, Roy was persuading by police.
“Roy revealed that a large Spanish corporation was financing
the entire operation,” O’Barry said. “He said that several dolphin
trainers from Mexico had been brought in to capture and train the
dolphins. He would not give any names. Nor would he disclose which
Mexican company had provided the staff to carry out the captures.”
O’Barry called the releases, “A powerful, positive message
to the rest of the world about Haiti’s respect for nature.”
Barbuda & Antigua
The news from Antigua was rather different. On February 11,
2004, the government of Antigua & Barbuda refused to allow Caribbean
developer John Mezzanotte to capture 12 dolphins per year from
Antiguan waters. On June 3, however, Mezzanotte was allowed to
import eight dolphins.
Mezzanotte is among the promoters of Dolphin Fantaseas, a
swim-with-dolphins attraction started on Anguilla in 1988 with six
dolphins imported from Cuba. The Dolphin Fantaseas facility in
Antigua & Barbuda was begun with three of those dolphins, who were
transferred from Anguilla in December 2001.
Martha Watkins-Gilkes, public relations officer for the
1,200-member Antigua & Barbuda Independent Tourism Promotion
Corporation, announced that her organization would investigate
possible legal action against the dolphin imports.
Weakening U.S. laws
In the U.S., Representative Wayne Gilchrist (R-Maryland) is
pushing a bill supported by the marine mammal exhibition industry to
eliminate federal tracking of dolphins, whales, sea lions, and
seals traded or sold overseas. Gilchrist chairs the Fisheries
Conservation, Wildlife & Oceans Subcomm-ittee of the House Committee
“U.S. parks would only have to report births, deaths, and
transfers of their animals annually, rather than when they occur,”
summarized Sally Kestin senior writer for the South Florida
The Gilchrist bill cleared the Resources Committee in fall
2003. In April 2004 Gilchrist brought it back by proposing an
amendment to study abolishing the captive marine mammal inventory
maintained by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and to
eliminate the requirement that marine mammal parks selling or loaning
regulated marine mammals abroad must obtain a “letter of comity” from
the governments of the recipient nations, certifying that the
foreign facilities meet U.S. standards.
“The proposed changes are part of a pattern of decreased
government oversight of the now $1 billon a year marine park
industry,” wrote Kestin. “In 1994, parks lobbied successfully for
Congress to eliminate a requirement that they submit death reports,
called necropsies, to the government when a marine mammal dies.
Parks no longer needed permits to move their animals out of the
country, and succeeded in having full oversight responsibility of
their animals transferred from the Fisheries Service to the USDA.”
Kestin examined the regulatory relaxation in detail in a
five-part series entitled “Marine Attractions: Below the Surface,”
published between May 16 and May 26, 2004.
“Over nine months,” Kestin wrote in the first part of the
series, “the Sun-Sentinel examined more than 30 years’ worth of
federal documents on 7,127 marine animals that the government
collected but never analyzed. The investigation found that more than
3,850 sea lions, seals, dolphins and whales have died under human
care, many of them young. Of nearly 3,000 whose ages could be
determined, a quarter died before they reached age one, half by age
“Of about 2,400 deaths in which a specific cause is listed,”
Kestin continued, one in five marine mammals died of uniquely human
hazards or seemingly avoidable causes such as capture shock, stress
during transit, poisoning, and routine medical care. Thirty-five
animals died from ingesting foreign objects” found in their tanks.
Kestin asked 129 marine mammal facilities for their side of
the issues, but SeaWorld, Six Flags Inc., the Indianapolis Zoo,
the National Aquarium, the MGM Mirage, the West Edmonton Mall,
Theatre of the Sea, the Miami Seaquarium, Dolphin Research Center,
and Buttonwood Park Zoo all refused to share basic pertinent
Most have been involved in controversies pertaining to marine
mammal captivity, and several still are.
The West Edmonton Mall, as of May 23, is no longer a
dolphin exhibitor. Howard, the last of four dolphins kept there
since 1985, was transferred to Theatre of the Sea in Islamorada,
Florida, near his capture site. The other three Edmonton Mall
dolphins died in 2000, 2001, and 2003.
Six Flags Inc., which sold the former SeaWorld of Ohio marine mammal
park in March 2004, while keeping the animals, in April transferred
Shouka the orca, age 10, to the Six Flags Marine World park in
Formerly Marine World Africa USA, the Vallejo facility and a
predecessor whale stadium in Redwood City, California, had featured
orcas since 1969, but the last of them died in 2000.