< Back

One Voice secures dolphins' release:

A brave new government says no to dolphin exploitation

Dolphins exposed to deadly capture for tourism

When One Voice received an urgent appeal from an anonymous source in Haiti to come to the rescue of several bottlenose dolphins that were confined in a small and shallow sea enclosure in the Arcadins Islands, our Marine Mammal Specialist, Ric O'Barry, was dispatched to Port-au-Prince to lobby the authorities and convince them to let the dolphins return to the wild.

It is illegal to capture dolphins in Haiti without a special permit. In February of 2004 such a special permit to capture ten dolphins for "education and tourism" was given to the company "Action Haiti" by the Jean-Bertrand Aristide government, just a few weeks before it fell from power. A Spanish corporation that has not been identified financed the captures, and a Mexican team was brought in to capture and train the dolphins. One Voice has received information that two of the ten captured dolphins died in transport, and two died later in the enclosure.

One Voice obtains permission to inspect the dolphin enclosure

O'Barry had several meetings with the secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Yves-Andre Wainright. Mr. Wainright issued a formal mandate giving One Voice permission to inspect the dolphin facility. This was an important step in securing the dolphins' release: Based on O'Barry's findings and some legal considerations, the authorities would determine if the dolphins should be confiscated and released, Mr. Wainright said.

Dolphins racing the clock

May 22 O‚Barry inspected the dolphin enclosure, accompanied by government officials and armed police officers. Six male dolphins were confined in a small sea-cage, no more than 15 by 15 feet. Several of the dolphins had so-called rake marks' on their bodies. Rake marks are teeth marks caused by dolphins biting one another. In the open sea, incompatible males simply swim away from one another. In this tiny cage they were forced to remain closely together, and they were constantly fighting for the little space they had. Five of the dolphins had stretcher burns under their pectoral fins. Stretcher burns are scars that derive from mishandling during capture and transport and result in permanent white discolorations on the dolphins' skin.

The enclosure provided no shade from the hot sun and was just five feet deep at its deepest end. Bottlenose dolphin normally swim up to 40 miles a day and can dive to depths of more than 1640 feet. Being confined in such a small space is stress inducing in itself. Furthermore, shallow water gets very hot during the summer. The elevated water temperatures would cause the animals to suffer, as a result of not having the option of diving down to escape the heat and cool their bodies off, as they would in nature.

It became clear to One Voice that we had to get the dolphins out of their cage before the heat of the summer set in. If we didn‚t, the dolphins would be stuck in shallow, hot water throughout the long summer months, causing immense discomfort and putting them at great risk for sunburn, diseases and even death. The dolphins were racing the clock.

Captive dolphins crushed to death by hurricane force winds..

The dolphin enclosure was also vulnerable to hurricanes. The international animal welfare community dealt with a similar situation in La Paz, Mexico, where a small and shallow dolphin cage had been built near the coastline. In October of 2003 a tropical storm hit the cage. Literally abandoned to the storm by the people designated to care for them, and unable to seek protection by diving down, the dolphins were thrown up against the fence by hurricane-force-winds. Three dolphins were crushed to death. One Voice predicts that the same thing would have happened in the Arcadins Islands. It was only a matter of time.

The recommendations of One Voice

One Voice urged Mr. Wainright to order the dolphins released, before more dolphins died. Mr. Wainright agreed positively to our recommendations, saying he would have a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Philippe Matthieux, who would ultimately determine the dolphins' fate.

Meanwhile, letters from concerned NGOs from all over the world reached the ministers, urging them to let the dolphins return to the wild.

Against all odds, the dolphins, release is secured

June 1 O'Barry had a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Philippe Mathieu. Mr. Mathieu announced that he had taken the recommendations of One Voice into consideration, and a decision had been made: The dolphins were going to be set free. He highlighted the connection between the dolphin capture and the recent flooding disaster that had killed more than 2000 Haitians and left 40,000 homeless. He pointed out that the flooding was a result of deforestation: When there are no roots in the ground to hold the soil on the mountains in place, the pouring rain runs freely down the mountainsides, slamming into villages along with debris, mud, and gravel. There is only one way to prevent this disaster from striking again: The deforestation must stop. "We need to find alternative ways of surviving in order to ensure both our own future and that of the environment," Mr. Mathieu said. He continued: „The same could be said about the dolphin issue. Allowing entrepreneurs to come to Haiti and profit from the misery of our natural treasures is not going to solve any of our problems. Giving the dolphins their freedom back is the right thing to do both for the dolphins and for the people of Haiti.‰

A big day for dolphins -- and for Haiti

On June 3 the One Voice team, Dr. Guillermo Lopez of the Academy of Sciences of the Dominican Republic, Mr. Wainright and Mr. Robert Badio, who is assistant to the Minister of Agriculture, boarded two Haitian Coast Guard boats. They were escorted by 20 armed Haitian and US Coast Guards. Shortly upon their arrival at the dolphin enclosure, Mr. Roy and his Spanish-speaking team showed up. The men were visibly upset. Mr. Roy tried to convince Mr. Wainright and Mr. Robert Badio not to free the dolphins. He claimed the dolphins‚ living conditions were more than adequate and that he was doing a good thing for the country in that he had created a new tourist attraction. But the authorities were not going to change their minds. „We will not allow for the establishment of a tourist attraction that is based on animal suffering,‰ Mr. Wainright said. The government officials placed a call for further security, and when a US Coast Guard boat with a machine gun mounted on the bow appeared, Mr. Roy and his team finally left.

Free at last

With the help of the One Voice team, the Haitian Coast Guard began the process of taking the dolphin cage apart. When the third metal pole had been pulled out and removed, the first three dolphins darted out of their cage. A smaller cage contained six green sea turtles that were also set free. These turtles are protected under the CITES convention and it is illegal to capture them.

At 12:58 PM the last dolphin left the enclosure. "Long live freedom!‰ a Haitian police officer exclaimed.

"Haiti wants to promote eco-tourism. We don't want tourists to come here and look at animals that are suffering. In Haiti, we already have so much suffering, we don't want to promote that kind of tourism," Wainright said, and everyone cheered as the six dolphins leaped above the surface of the water and swam off into the open sea. They were free at last.

One Voice applauds the brave new Haitian government for setting the dolphins and turtles free. By doing so, they are sending a powerful, positive message to the rest of the world about Haiti's respect for nature.

To see a video of the release, please go to this page: www.wozoproductions.org
Once you enter the site, simply click on "VIDEO." Then click on the image of the dolphin enclosure.

-Unauthorised reproduction of texts or photos is strictly prohibited
© One Voice