Captive Dolphins

Captive Dolphins

Dolphins’ importation meets with disapproval from BICREF

BICREF (The Biological Conservation Research Foundation) believes that Malta should not import or export any wild marine mammals or any other vulnerable and protected species.

Dolphins, including bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), (species shown in photo found also in local waters), should not be caught from the wild to be kept in captivity unless for temporary veterinary assistance or medication. Six bottlenose dolphins captured in Cuban waters last year, have been imported to Malta for dolphinarium confinement. BICREF members are upset to realise that local authorities would be encouraging such activities by their issuing of a permit for importation of these previously free-living dolphins.

BICREF feels that the recently renewed marine mammal regulations in Malta (LN203 of 2003 published in August) may have made it easier for these dolphins to be imported from the wild for the dolphinaria. Thus BICREF wants to caution local authorities against the possibility that the new marine mammal regulations in Maltamay be enacted to accommodate local business needs rather than safeguarding marine mammals.

More over CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) lists bottlenose dolphins in its appendix II and thus requires careful considerations and permits in any movement of specimens dead or alive. Malta is a signatory to CITES; and its local management is within MEPA.

However over and above this Malta will also need to consider European Union legislation and regulations such as the EU council regulation 338/97 for the protection of wild fauna and flora. This EU regulation, that came into effect on the 1st of June 1997, sees bottlenose dolphins species listed in its Annex A and thus has more stringent measures for the protection of this species than that for CITES. Indeed bottlenose dolphin trade is banned. More specifically article 8 states that “the purchase, offer to purchase, acquisition for commercial purposes, display to the public for commercial purposes, use for commercial gain and sale, keeping for sale, offering for sale or transporting for sale of specimens of the species listed in Annex A shall be prohibited”. Obviously as Malta is an accession country one would need to know if MEPA has any derogation or has asked for any exemption from these prohibitions.

What use is it for Malta to have several legally binding obligations due to its signing of various international conventions and agreements that protect marine mammals, if locally we now seem to approve capture from wild populations of dolphins anywhere in the world!

Obviously now that these unfortunate dolphins are here, BICREF demands that the public be informed on how and who will be monitoring their survival and well-being especially in the critical coming weeks. These dolphins have had to pass through the ordeal of their capture last year, separating them from their natural home and families, to the extremely long voyage to be transported here, and to end up in limited-spaced pools.

BICREF also would like to point out toward the required scientific considerations in the importation of specimens. Firstly these specimens are probably genetically distinct from Mediterranean Bottlenose dolphins due to the geographical distance that separates the various populations and consequently no local reintroduction in the sea would be possible. And secondly new pathogens curried with the imported specimens may find their way into the local waters if some pool water is being thrown back into the sea untreated. Conversely these Cuban specimens may not be adapted to survive in the presence of local pathogens.