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1 August 2001 Issue
Abused, Abandoned Dolphins Rescued

By Environmental News Network
http://www.enn.com/news/enn-stories/2001/07/07252001/dolphins_44426.asp?site=email

Dolphin conservationist Richard O'Barry, the former trainer of television's famous dolphin Flipper, has just completed a real-life dolphin rescue, saving two abused dolphins in Guatemala.

Working as a rescuer with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), O'Barry supervised the move of bottlenose dolphins Ariel and Turbo to Guatemala's Manavique Point last week. He and a rehabilitation team now aim to restore the abused dolphins to the wild ocean, a process expected to take about two months.

The two dolphins were kept in a filthy makeshift pool on a hillside near Antigua City, Guatemala, as part of a traveling dolphin spectacle known as Mundo Marino,
based in Venezuela. They were abandoned by their trainers earlier this month after questions about possible permit violations at the facility arose. The WSPA says that the trainers left with most of the water filtration equipment, making rescue difficult and the death of the starving dolphins almost inevitable.

The WSPA rescued the animals on July 12 and placed them in a sea pen built by WSPA's Luis Carlos Sarmiento to start a period of rehabilitation before their eventual return to the sea. The rescue itself was organized by WSPA's Latin American team of Gerardo Huertas, Juan Carlos Murillo, and O'Barry.

O'Barry says, "When WSPA first rushed to Guatemala to try and save Ariel and Turbo, we weren't sure if they were going to make it. They were floating in their own excrement and hadn't eaten for days. It seemed as if their pen would become their tomb."

WSPA veterinarian Dr. Juan Carlos Murillo said, "Ariel and Turbo were in bad shape when we got to them. They had sores all over their bodies and in their mouths and were suffering from kidney and respiratory infections. And one of the dolphins had a huge cut on the top of his head where he was hit by his trainer."

Huertas, WSPA regional director for Latin America said just keeping the dolphins alive was a major challenge. "One of our top priorities was to change the disgusting water that was making the dolphins so sick. This meant arranging a caravan of 35 trucks to bring in fresh water and 300 sacks of salt. We had to repeat this maneuver several times. The dolphins also got special around-the-clock veterinary care, and their malnourished bodies required 50 pounds of fish per day."

Guatemala Environmental Ministry officials awarded custody of the two marine mammals to WSPA, and they were moved to the WSPA-built rehabilitation site at isolated Manavique Point. The more time the dolphins spent out of the water, the more dangerous it was for them.

Due to death threats against the rescuers, military and police personnel were on hand to escort the transport trucks to the airport in Guatemala City. Laughs Huertas, "We got stuck in the morning rush-hour traffic, and drivers refused to yield to the convoy. But when people noticed the military sharpshooter on top of the main truck, they moved out of our way pretty quickly!"

Safely packed in transport boxes filled with ice and water to keep them cool and comforted by the WSPA team, Ariel and Turbo were loaded on to a military transport plane in Guatemala City for the first leg of their trip to Puerto Barrios on the Caribbean coast. From there, a helicopter waited to take the dolphins to their final destination at Manavique Point. Forced to make a pinpoint landing on a small sandbar that is only exposed during low tide, the helicopter touched down mere feet from the temporary enclosure.

Ariel was the first to arrive. Immediately after she was placed in the sea pen, a pod of wild dolphins showed up by the other side of the pen's net to greet the new dolphins. Turbo followed a few minutes later and together they disappeared into the depths.

O'Barry said, "Now that the dolphins are free from the burden of having to perform for humans, they've made a remarkable recovery. It won't be long before they're free to swim the oceans, as dolphins should be."

Based in the United Kingdom and the United States, the WSPA has more than 300 member societies in 80 countries around the world. It has consultative status to the United Nations and the Council of Europe.

Copyright 2001, Environmental News Network

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