Animal Writes
14 March 2001 Issue
La Paz Mexico Dolphin Capture

from [email protected] 

Great news: La Pas dolphinarium is taken over by federal agency.

We are just returning from La Paz, Mexico, where we gave our support to Dr. Yolanda Alaniz Pasini's intense campaign to close the so-called "Dolphin Learning Center" in La Paz and return the victim dolphins to their home waters in Magdalena Bay. (As you all know, one dolphin has already died at the facility.) The team consisted of Yolanda, Juan Antonio Ramirez, Gerardo Huertas of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), Ric O'Barry, Wildlife consultant for WSPA, and Helene O'Barry,
field correspondent for the Dolphin Project.

Here is an overview of what happened:

February 27, we meet with Juan Antonio Ramirez who is monitoring the Dolphin Learning Center very closely and works together with Yolanda to shut down the facility. Juan Antonio showed us the video he shot on the evening of December 31, 2000, when the eight dolphins that had been captured in Magdalena Bay of the Pacific Ocean arrived in La Paz after a very hard eight-hour truck ride. The video shows a group of men handling the dolphins. Among them are Dr. Javier Enriquez who owns the Dolphin Learning Center, workers from La Concha Hotel, and dolphin trainer Javier Aedo Sordo, who has also worked for the infamous dolphin trafficker Jay Sweeney.

The video is devastating to watch. It shows trainer Javier A. Sordo open one of the transport boxes with a hammer, the dolphin cringing at every blow. It shows the team carrying a large dolphin in a stretcher of inferior quality. The stretcher, which has no holes for the pectoral fins, is ripped open under the
weight of the heavy dolphin. The scene is characterized by chaos and confusion, with people yelling orders in Spanish. The men drop the dolphin on the ground several times. The dolphin looks frightened and exhausted and repeatedly tries to bite the handlers.

Later, an eyewitness tells us that she went to the beach the morning after the dolphins arrived. "I saw the transport boxes and mattresses. One of the mattresses was covered in blood. I tried to pick it up, but it was dripping blood and so heavy I couldn't lift it. When I asked Enriquez about it, he told me that it was normal to see blood when you transport dolphins."

February 28, O'Barry is interviewed for "el Sudcalifornio," the biggest newspaper in the state of Baja California. He makes it very clear that the purpose of his trip is to educate the public about the inherent cruelty connected with capturing and confining dolphins. He urges Enriquez to return the seven
dolphins to the capture site and release them.

In the afternoon, we visit the captive dolphin facility, which is nothing but an ugly cage in the bay. It is located right next to La Concha Hotel. We are accompanied by Concepcion Sanchez, a prominent journalist from Televisa, the biggest TV station of Latin America. Sanchez follows us around at all
times and documents the campaign for national television.

When we make a request to see the dolphins, the dolphin trainer's wife, who says we have not come "in good faith", denies us access. Sanchez then makes a phone call to government officials Victor Martinez of PROFEBA and Fernando A. Garcia, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources. They agree to come right away to clear the way for us to inspect and photograph the facility. Furthermore, they will join the inspection and take O'Barry's recommendations into consideration.

The dolphin pen is divided into two small holding pens and a larger area. There are two dolphins in the larger area, and five in one of the small holding pens. The enclosure is so small, the dolphins can barely move. We are told they are kept here "for training purposes." The trainer gives us the names of the dolphins. One of the very young dolphins is identified as Cappuccino. The trainer tells us he is the calf of Aqua. "We captured them together. We didn't want to separate them," he says. There is an even younger calf in the group. We do not know who the calf's mother is.

All dolphins - except the youngest calf - have severe stretcher burns under their pectoral fins. The five dolphins kept in the training pen stay very closely together in one corner, looking out at the open sea through the chain link fence. They seem very confused and frightened.

O'Barry points out several problems connected with this facility, one of them being that the sea pen gets very shallow at low tide. In the wild, dolphins are able to seek cooler water when needed. In this cage, the dolphins are trapped in warm (90 degrees Fahrenheit in summer), shallow water, and O'Barry questions whether the dolphins will be able to survive the heat of the summer. He concludes that this pen is a death sentence for the dolphins and urges the government officials to ensure that the dolphins are reunited with their pod in Magdalena Bay as soon as possible. He points out that the five dolphins are clearly suffering in such a small cage, constantly fighting the strong tides and unable to move. He recommends giving all of the dolphins complete access to the entire enclosure immediately.

Enriquez denies any wrongdoing. He calls Juan's damaging video footage of the handling of the dolphins "manipulated" and in an interview later that day declares that he will set the dolphins free on one condition: All other captive dolphin facilities in Mexico must shut down, too. In other words:
Enriquez is not going to give the dolphins up voluntarily.

On March 1, we meet with Siria Verdugo, a member of the agency "Environmental Issues of Local Congress." Also present are congress member Dr. Francisco Amador and journalist Sanchez. Verdugo and Amador are very receptive to O'Barry's arguments against keeping dolphins captive. However, they make it clear that they do not have the power to shut down the Dolphin Learning Center. This can only happen from the agency in Mexico City who issued the permits to begin with. They tell us that the dolphins will be confiscated form Enriquez if it is documented that there is a case of neglect. Verdugo has read the necropsy report for Luna, the dolphin that died February 3. When asked if she thinks the report shows that Luna died of negligence, her answer is yes.

The necropsy report, which was announced in the news, was translated to us from Spanish. If the translation is correct, the report says the following:

Luna has scars on her dorsal fin and a deep cut on her melon. She
has cuts on her pectoral fins, about 3 inches deep. The wounds were
inflicted on the animal while she was still alive. The report says that
the abundance of both deep and artificial wounds seen in Luna, are not
to be considered normal in capture and transport procedures. The
dolphin's throat is stuffed full of whole fish. There are signs of antibi-
otics that have been administered orally. Luna's intestines have ulcers.
Her respiratory track is inflamed. The dolphin's blockage of the intes-
tines is directly linked to the way she was captured and transported.
The report states that Luna has experienced intense pain and stress
and that the capture and handling of the dolphin played a part in her
death, as did the oral administration of antibiotics.

Despite the outcome of the necropsy report, both Enriquez and trainer Javier Sordo maintain that no harm was done to Luna. They declare that all remaining seven dolphins are in good health.

(We have a copy of the necropsy. If anyone would like to see it and translate it into English, please let us know.)

March 2, Yolanda and O'Barry give a talk at the marine biology department at the university of La Paz. Both the trainer and Ricardo Perez, manager of La Concha Hotel, are present, and the auditorium is packed. The majority in the audience seems to be supporters of the Dolphin Learning Center. When we show an excerpt from Juan's video documenting the rough handling of the dolphins, some in the audience laugh. O'Barry asks the trainer if he thinks the dolphins would make it in the wild if they were released immediately. The trainer's answer is "yes." "Do you think that's the right thing to do," asks
O'Barry. The trainer replies, "No." When asked if he thinks the dolphins should remain in their cage, he answers "yes."


On March 3, the newspaper Sudcalifornio announces that PROFEBA has taken over the seven dolphins. This is a major breakthrough. The first thing PROFEBA did was to let the five dolphins into the larger area of the pen. On March 5, a committee will be formed to reevaluate the permits that Enriquez was given to capture and keep dolphins. We have a very good chance of freeing these dolphins. The next step in the process is having the dolphins confiscated and returned home.


Yolanda stresses that it is VERY important that we continue to write letters, urging the government to release the dolphins back into the wild. The most important person to write to is Dr. Victor Lichtinger of SEMARNAT. (You will find the address on several websites, including the websites of WDCS, HSUS, and the Dolphin Project. If you can't find the addresses, please contact Yolanda or Gwen McKenna for help.)

Furthermore, Yolanda needs letters of support from people in Mexico. If anybody has contacts there, please ask them to send letters. The letters have a big impact

Helene O'Barry

Go on to Puppy Mills: "A Cruel Industry"
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