Monday, February 20, 2006

Dolphin park accused of mistreating dolphins

The operator of a controversial dolphin park in the Solomon Islands has rejected claims by US animal liberation activists that his animals are starving and dehydrated.

Canadian Chris Porter, who runs the park on Gavetu Island, said a recent cyclone that hit the Solomons had reduced fish supplies for his dolphins but things were now back to normal and they were in professional care.

Ric O'Barry, the former trainer of 1970s television star Flipper now with animal protection group One Voice, last week joined Mark Berman of the environmental group the Earth Island Institute to urge the government to take over the park where they say 20 dolphins were starving and dehydrated.

The export of 28 Bottlenose Dolphins from the park to Mexico in July 2004 sparked international outrage and prompted the Australian and New Zealand governments to urge the Solomons to ban live dolphin exports.

The Solomons government imposed such a ban last year.

O'Barry and Berman said from the Solomons capital Honiara on Friday that the dolphins were in an emergency situation, starving, dehydrated and in need of veterinary help.

O'Barry, who has campaigned against the captive dolphin industry since his Flipper training days, said he had seen recent footage of the dolphins made by an independent film maker which showed they were malnourished, sunburnt and blistered.

The footage showed they had "peanut heads", a sure sign they had lost so much weight their heads were shaped like peanuts about their skulls, he said.

Porter has defended his operation but said the recent cyclone did take out two of the park's pool systems and depleted the local fish supply.

He said 20,000kg of fish was in a container on the wharf in the Solomons capital Honiara but the cyclone prevented its dispatch by boat to Gavetu.

"Some local fish was procured but it did lead to less than normal food availability.

"The fish supply is back to normal as finally all the boats are back in the water.

"We are addressing all the problems and the group of animals remains under professional care."
Porter said the ban on dolphin exports had affected the park because occasional dolphin exports were to have financed the tourism operation.

He said his company was pursuing a complaint with the Australian High Commission after Australians working with the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) were advised they should not visit the island because of Australian government rules regarding interactions with wild dolphins.

Such a ban reduced tourist numbers to the island, Porter said.

O'Barry and Berman said four of the park's dolphins had died in recent weeks leaving only 20 out of more than 100 originally captured for the park.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"