Two dozen dolphins captured by impoverished fishermen in the South Pacific arrived at a water park here on July 22nd, despite protests by conservationists.
Flown by cargo plane from the Solomon Islands, the marine mammals were among 200 wild dolphins on sale and held in tiny pens in what activists have branded an environmental crime.
"THIS IS THE biggest single capture of dolphins for public display (and) … the ultimate idea of tourism gone amok," said Ben White of the Washington-based Animal Welfare Institute. "These dolphins are out of the ocean for the first time and they’re scared out of their minds. When they get here they have to do dorsal pulls for tourists having flipper fantasies who think it’s spiritual."
"I think it’s inevitable that we’re going to see a number of the dolphins dying," added Nicola Beynon of the Australian branch of Humane Society International.
Activists fear the dolphins could suffer trauma from being uprooted from their environment in the South Pacific ocean and could also infect local dolphins living off the tropical Yucatan peninsula with new diseases.
Impoverished fishermen in the Solomons, a chain of 1,000 islands 1,200 miles northeast of Australia, sold the dolphins for $260 a head, the Australian Associated Press news agency said.
MEXICO DEFENDS IMPORT
Australia has urged Mexico to block the deal. But Georgita Ruiz of the Mexican government’s environmental protection agency said there was no reason to do so.
"We are the first to be concerned that these things are done according to the law. We found no element to deny the import permit," Ruiz said.
She said the decision to allow the dolphins to be brought into Mexico was taken after careful consultation with scientists. She said the dolphins would be given full medical checks to ensure they could not pass on any disease.
Thirty-three dolphins were originally ordered but only 20 to 25 were on the flight.
Mexican environmental groups have filed a suit arguing it is illegal to bring exotic species into a protected natural area.
"These are cold water dolphins and here it’s 28 degrees Centigrade. It’s an issue of water temperature and quality, the species living here, the food. It’s not logical to bring them," said Aracelie Dominguez, founder of an environmentalist network in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.
No one was available to comment at Parque Nizuc, the aquatic park in Cancun where the dolphins are headed. Visitors to the park can swim with dolphins at a cost of $86 per person or simply kiss and pet the dolphins for $45.
Parque Nizuc already had 15 dolphins that are kept in a sea corral.
The trade in live dolphins is governed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which prohibits it if it is detrimental to them and not subject to proper regulation.
But the Solomons, where civil war has broken out, has not signed up to the convention. Nor does it have a properly functioning public sector to efficiently oversee such things as export permits.
"Regrettably we’ve got a political crisis in the Solomons and we just think that the entrepreneurs in this case, the traders, are taking advantage of that and we hope that the Mexican government will realize that," said Beynon, the Humane Society International official.
The group called the capture and sale the worst exploitation of wildlife in decades and an environmental crime. It said the dolphins could be sold abroad for up to $30,000 each.
In addition to the Mexican buyers, Australian media said potential customers from Thailand and Taiwan had also traveled to the Solomons recently to inspect the dolphins.