A Long Day
Monday, February 25
7 AM: I am heading to Panama this morning from Costa Rica to see what is happening with the proposal to capture wild dolphins for captive display. I am very concerned that the government will go ahead and approve this petition in spite of expert opinion recommending that it be suspended.
Randy Wells, a conservation biologist at the Chicago Zoological Society and a world recognized expert on dolphins who has been at the forefront of dolphin research for the past several decades, had this to say about the proposal by Ocean Embassy:
"I understand that Ocean Embassy Panama plans to collect bottlenose dolphins from the waters of Panama. Based on 37 years of research with dolphins in Florida and elsewhere, I am strongly opposed to the removal of dolphins from the wild, especially in the absence of adequate assessments of the wild populations, including their structure, abundance, vital rates, and factors affecting them, prior to the collections. Since 1970, we have been monitoring five generations of bottlenose dolphins that live in a year-round resident community in Sarasota Bay, Florida. We have found indications that disruption of the community through losses/removals can adversely impact the animals remaining in the wild, through decreased reproductive success and disruptions of the social structure (Wells 2000, 2003).
The Chicago Zoological Society and partner institutions ceased collecting bottlenose dolphins from the wild decades ago in favor of cooperative captive breeding programs involving dolphins already living in zoological parks and aquaria. These programs have been very successful, and they represent much more appropriate efforts toward effective conservation of dolphins than removal from the wild. I would expect more of a new dolphin program in Panama than to implement an out-dated and biologically-unsound program of collection from the wild."
3 PM: I have a meeting with the mayor of Panama who seems to be very concerned about the proposal to catch wild dolphins for the captive industry. The mayor, Juan Carlos Navarro, has a colorful past as an avid environmentalist-most notably as the founder of ANCON (a Panamanian NGO for conservation). We talked about the project for a ling time and I am surprised at how vehemently he opposes the project and how enthusiastic he is to support us. To be honest, I couldn't be more thrilled! We need an ally in the government and he seems more than happy to be the one. There is a press conference after our meeting and he makes his position clear to the media. "I will oppose this on ethical grounds! We will not let American businessmen pillage the resources of the country for profit!" And it seems the people agree with him since 82% of the population is "against taking wild dolphins for captivity." I look forward to seeing how this all works out...
6PM: I have been granted a meeting with the directors of the Autoridad de Recursos Acuaticos de Panama-the new agency in charge of managing Panama's aquatic resources. It was a very enlightening meeting and I better understand their concerns from a socio-economic perspective and their hopes that the Ocean Embassy project will breathe new life into their economy and help them address poverty issues. I have seen coastal communities in Panama and the struggles of the poor and I hope to one day be able to help them in really meaningful ways. I really understand the government's desire to find solutions to address these issues but made it clear that I could not, in good conscience, support the construction of a dolphinarium as a solution. We discussed it at length and agreed to disagree on the merits of the Ocean Embassy proposal with a view to collaborate on other projects in the future. I am relieved that they understand my position on this issue-my opposition to capturing wild dolphins for captive display-and that we can maintain a productive relationship in spite of it.
12 AM: I have been awake for 19 hours and am going to bed! I'll let you know what the next couple of days bring.
Signing off for the night.