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Holly. Image: Miray Campbell

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Risso's dolphin at surface

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One step at a time: Victory for dolphins in the Bahamas!

Due to the tenacity and perseverance of local Bahamanian grassroots organization, reEarth, a significant legal battle opposing the development of a captive dolphin facility on Blackbeard’s Cay, just northwest of Nassau, has been waged and won, marking a small victory in the larger fight for an end to whales and dolphins in captivity.

In this landmark decision, the Supreme Court judgment revoked all import permits and operating licenses for Blue Illusions, the company behind the dolphin facility, and ordered the removal of the eight dolphins currently at the facility. The dolphins were shipped to the Bahamas from Honduras in July 2013, and were being held in shallow and unprotected sea pens.  The judgment also determined that government authorities acted illegally in allowing the development to move ahead without following proper planning and permitting procedures under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. More importantly, the judgment challenged the legality of importing dolphins into the Bahamas for anything other than research under the country’s marine mammal protection legislation, forecasting longer term implications for the future of other dolphin facilities in the Bahamas.

WDC has provided support to reEarth and its ongoing campaign to oppose the Blackbeard’s Cay and other captive dolphin facilities in the Bahamas, and stemming from our broader consultation with the government during its development of its marine mammal protection legislation.

Last February, the Supreme Court of the Bahamas had granted permission to reEarth to bring judicial review proceedings challenging the permits and approvals received by the Blackbeard’s Cay project.  As a result, those government officials involved in permitting the dolphin facility were forced to make full disclosure of all permit, license, lease and approval applications submitted by the developer Blue Illusions. This ruling was significant and allowed procedural improprieties and breaches of law to be discovered and addressed, including the failure of the planning committee to hold a public hearing, a requirement under the permitting process. This earlier legal action paved the way for the recent Supreme Court decision revoking all privileges to the facility. 

The Blackbeard’s Cay project has been exceptionally controversial not only because of the inhumane conditions in which the dolphins were being held, but also the documented skirting of proper permitting procedures and forecasted harm to local retailers on Nassau through the diversion of cruise passengers to the cay. Three other dolphin facilities holding at least 70 dolphins already operate within the Bahamas.

Blue Illusions may choose to appeal this decision, but for now, it has been ordered to restore the area to its original use and condition prior to its development of the dolphin sea pen. It is not clear what will happen to the eight dolphins currently at the facility, but options include returning them to their Honduran origin, moving them to another dolphin facility in the Bahamas, or identifying another scenario that might include the development of a sanctuary-type alternative.

The Caribbean is generally a battle zone for efforts to oppose new dolphin facilities, as captures continue to occur in the region primarily in Cuba, and existing swim-with programs seek to expand to other islands. Currently, local organizations and individuals are also leading the opposition against proposed facilities on St. Thomas and the Turks and Caicos, and WDC is doing our best to support them in their efforts to oppose and eliminate dolphin captivity from the region, one facility at a time.