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CHILE: DOLPHIN CAPTURES OFF THE COAST OF IQUIQUE
February 19, 2002
Source: Leviathan News

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LeviathanNews
February 15´2002, Santiago de Chile
Scientists and environmentalists warn of serious dangers and eventual illegality surrounding captures of wild dolphin promoted by the Mayor of Iquique, Jorge Soria.

STGO., Chile.- Scientists from Chile warn of the risks in causing serious damage to wild dolphin populations off the Chilean coast due to the imminent establishment of a new dolphin capture center and aquarium. According to the local newspaper El Nortino, the project is a joint venture between the Municipality of Iquique and the University of Arturo Prat - UNAP.

In legal terms, the initiative may be violating various international conventions that safeguard the sustainable exploitation of endangered and migratory species. Ironically, Chile will be hosting this years convention for CITES in November of 2002. According to the Centre for Marine Mammals Research Leviathan, "Due to the high mortality rates and devastating effects to wild dolphin populations caused by these, the capturing of wild dolphin has been prohibited or severely restricted in most of the countries that have considered these practices. It is an obsolete activity that has been condemned by the public and the international community.

The dolphins will suffer and die, and the next step will be to capture more animals and replace them without even changing their names. Once the public gains awareness of what really is happening and ticket sales plunge, the next step is to capture more dolphins and export them continuously to aquariums around the world that are constantly in need of replacing their dying animals."

Together with Japan, Cuba and Russia, Mexico has been one of the main dolphin capture centers in the world during the past decades, providing animals to numerous dolphinaria and aquariums worldwide. Its relationships with organized crime and corruption have been widely published and denounced by environmental groups, accounting for thousands of dolphins suffering and dying from captive conditions and transport.

In its fight against organized crime and corruption networks that bloomed during the administrations of the PRI governments, the Mexican administration lead by Vicente Fox has recently imposed the virtual prohibition of captures and export of dolphins from and within Mexican jurisdictional waters. The next step would be to eradicate dolphinaria that spread throughout the country, but the high numbers (100) of dolphins held captive and the powerful groups behind make it an almost impossible task.

The Mayor of Iquique Jorge Soria has publicly acknowledged intense relations with trainers and companies dedicated to dolphin captures and display in Mexico. He has mentioned them as investors in a more global project to transform Iquique into a major tourist center. However, CMMR Leviathan rejects the idea as a tourist attraction, stating that "the presence of an operation center of this type will not only harm the animals, but it will severely affect the tourism potentiality of the region. Iquique will be related to the degrading, death and suffering of animals that are highly praised and sympathetic to the international public. Chile is privileged with natural resources where these animals can be observed in their natural habitat without harming them, but only if the appropriate measures are taken based on long term research to determine the conditions of the wild populations as well as the norms and mitigation techniques to be implemented. Unfortunately in Chile these conditions don't exist today.

This can´t be discarded that, as with similar cases before, environmental and pro- responsible Ecotourism organizations may organize an intense worldwide tourism boycott campaign to Iquique. It has occurred before and it would be very regretful for its people who see tourism as an economic alternative."

- INTEREST IN CHILE -

The new regulations imposed by the Mexican government are forcing its captive industry to look for new countries where legislation on marine mammals are weak and where government authorities have shown signs of permissiveness.

Despite the high numbers of dolphin mortality and obscure operations that surround the industry, Soria has acknowledged providing travel expenses for employees to travel to Mexico to "learn" more about dolphinaria and captures. Soria is a strong promoter of the initiative and according to the press, it is being developed in conjunction with the Universidad de Arturo Prat, in charge executing a "research plan" with the captured dolphins. University authorities have not confirmed nor denied the information.

- CHILE`S EXPERIENCE WITH DOLPHINARIA -

Chile has a dark record concerning captive dolphins. Of all the dolphins that have entered the country, all (12) died shortly after, despite that in the wild they have a life expectancy of about 30 to 35 years.

The most notorious case in Chile occurred in the same city of Iquique in 1997. Two bottlenose dolphins were imported from Cuba by "Arte América" owned by José Luis Suau, but only one ("Meñique") arrived at Iquique since the other dolphin (Dragón) died during the flight from Santiago to Iquique. Like today, Soria was also the Mayor at the time and provided strong support to Suau`s project.

"Meñique" was held in a small municipal swimming pool "Alcalde Arturo Godoy". The idea was to offer "dolphin assisted therapy", supposed to miraculously cure all kinds of neurological disorders but opposed by the medical community and known as a fraud. Suau´s business did nor prosper and Meñique was left virtually abandoned and later confiscated by a court order.

The case turned into a world wide scandal gaining wide coverage from the press beyond Chile`s boundaries. An international wildlife rescuer from Dade County Miami flew to Iquique to rehabilitate and then transport Meñique back to Cuban waters from where he was originally taken from. The case even became known as the "little Willy" in its dolphin version. (See: http://www.cnn.com/EARTH/9704/16/cuba.dolphins.

According to Leviathan, "Soria´s project is destined to fail once again just as it occurred in 1997 when he blindly and openly supported the project destined to perform "miraculous therapies. It is inconceivable that Mr. Soria keeps insisting on the idea after all that has happened and that he hasn´t learned the lesson from the first experience.

He will prosper in his efforts to gain attention for himself and the city, but in a very negative way. Ecotourism is a smart means of promoting a tourism industry beyond the two summer months as it occurs today, but a harmful project like the one he proposes will only scare potential tourist dollars coming from the growing number of ecotourists searching for pristine and friendly destinations.

The opening of dolphin captures in Chile will only legitimize the entrance of organized mafias that profit from the death and suffering of the dolphins and on behalf of fooling the audience that actually cares for them. The international and local experience teaches us that the project cannot survive on ticket sales only, and once the public and sponsors loose interest they will be faced with the options of either shutting down and abandoning the surviving dolphins, or to actively enter international mafia connections dedicated to animal trafficking. Once this happens, reverting the process becomes an arduous task and may not always succeed."

For more information:
Pablo Lobo, contact@leviathanchile.org
www.leviathanchile.org