According to Profepa, the Mexican environmental protection agency, the Mexican government has temporarily closed a theme park in Cancun which has been the heart of an ongoing international dispute over trading wild dolphins.
In July, Canadian businessman Christopher Porter, hired fishermen in the Solomon Islands to capture wild dolphins. Porter paid $260 USD per dolphin. The Solomons are north of Australia and its citizens are not wealthy.
Shortly after, 28 wild bottlenose dolphins were imported from the Solomons to the Mexican resort area.
Buyers from Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Italy began arranging purchases of more dolphins for marine parks in their countries. A dolphin used for entertainment purposes, such as "swim-with-the-dolphins" programs, is reportedly valued at $25,000 to $30,000.
The environmental protection agency announced last week that the decision to close Cancun’s Parque Nizuc marine park had been taken after the death of a dolphin at the park, during the previous weekend.
The Mexican agency said it appeared the dolphin had died from stress. Park officials were not available for comments.
In addition to concern for the welfare of the captured wild dolphins, animal rights activists have also expressed concern that the wild dolphins may transmit diseases to the local dolphins.
Profepa said the closure was "partial and temporary" and the theme park could be reopened if the wild dolphins were confined and all animals at the facility were given medical tests.
Mexico is the first country to allow the import of dolphins captured in the Solomons. It previously banned capturing its own dolphins for entertainment purposes.
Representatives from animal rights groups said it is not clear whether Mexico’s closure of the theme park is an attempt to ward off protestors at the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) summit which is, ironically, scheduled to be held in Cancun.
Reports of at least 60 more mammals currently being held on the island of Gela, and dozens more confined in other locations, have outraged animal welfare groups, who say their fight to protect the captured animals has just begun.
Concerned citizens are being asked to continue letter, fax and email campaigns to Mexican and Australian officials, asking them to drop the illegal trading of wild dolphins.
According to Richard O’Barry, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) Marine Mammal Specialist and former trainer of TV’s Flipper, "The large number of animals is extremely difficult to manage, especially if you don’t have the right medicines, equipment and staff.
"It appears that the animals are in very crowded conditions, which is also of concern because this can lead to stress and aggression.
"Another thing to consider is that it takes thousands of pounds of fish — per day — to feed so many dolphins. Either the dolphins are going hungry, which I suspect is happening anyway in this chaotic environment, or the Solomons are strip mining their seas of fish," O’Barry said.