International Marine Mammal Project

Dolphin Swim Centers Under Fire

Earth Island News

International Marine Mammal Project

Mexico – Commercial swim-with-dolphins parks are proliferating at an alarming rate. Mexico, Venezuela and several Caribbean countries – including Anguilla, Tortola, Jamaica, Bermuda and Antigua – are capturing young bottlenose dolphins by the dozens for these programs.

In December 2000, the owners of the Fins Dolphin Learning Center (FDLC) in La Paz (the capital of Mexico’s Baja California Sur state) captured eight bottlenose dolphins in Magdalena Bay on the Pacific coast. The animals were transported overland in a trailer to La Paz, on the Sea of Cortez, where the water temperature is as much as 10 C (18 F) warmer.

A local TV station videotaped a trainer repeatedly hammering the side of a wood box to flush out a female dolphin. As the stressed dolphins were moved on stretchers from the truck to a fenced lagoon, a trainer dropped the stretcher and the frightened dolphin spilled out.

The La Paz pen, where the dolphins have been held captive since December, is adjacent to the sewage discharges from a nearby hotel and condominium complex. At low tide, the depth of the sea pen is no more than five feet. This is dangerous because dolphins in the wild avoid such shallow waters. On February 14, one of the dolphins died.

While the FDLC enjoys the support of the Antiguan government, the campaign to close it is being led by TV celebrity Robin Leach (“Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”). With protests pouring in from around the world, Mexico’s Environmental Enforcement Agency (PROFEPA) and the Environment Secretary sent out inspectors who reported irregularities in management of the surviving dolphins.

A few weeks later, PROFEPA closed the facility, claiming that the dolphins’ caretakers had been “negligent.” But in a stunning closed-doors decision, a Baja California Sur Supreme Court Judge overruled PROFEPA’s decision. Because the appeals judge has 22 months to review the case, even a positive decision could come too late to save the La Paz dolphins.

The dolphins’ only hope lies in public pressure. We are demanding that the dolphins be rehabilitated and released.

US entrepreneur Graham Simpson had planned to open Dolphin Fantaseas, a captivity program in Antigua that has the approval of Antiguan Prime Minister Lester Bird. But Simpson has filed for bankruptcy protection in a US court, listing debts to 20 of his largest investors totaling well over $1 million.

Dolphin Fantaseas has been the subject of a worldwide protest from dolphin defenders who have threatened an international tourism boycott of Antigua if the plan goes forward. A nearby mangrove forest is being damaged by the silt pumped from the lagoon to create the holding pens for the planned park.

The US Treasury Department is checking to see if Simpson violated any US laws. Ironically, Washington’s concern is not whether Simpson’s plan poses a threat to the survival of wild dolphins: Treasury agents merely want to determine if Simpson imported captive dolphins from Cuba, in which case he would have violated the “Trading with the Enemy Act.”

What You Can Do: Send emails requesting the immediate closure of the Fins Dolphin Learning Center: Licdo. Leonel Cota Montano, Gobernador, Estado Baja California Sur,

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