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Antigua and Barbuda considering legislation to ban whale and dolphin captivity

Despite the public’s growing attention and concern about captive cetaceans, swim-with-dolphin encounters have expanded across the Caribbean region in the past two decades. While some islands and countries have chosen to limit or prohibit the establishment of dolphin facilities (e.g., Panama, Costa Rica, Dominica, and St. Maarten), others have permitted, or are in the process of considering, the construction of one or more swim-with-the dolphin programs (e.g., Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, St. Thomas).

There is a long and tortured history on Antigua regarding dolphin swim-with programs, local opposition, and special interests seeking to exploit dolphins for profit and gain. Antigua and Barbuda became the center of controversy in 2001 when a captive dolphin facility was established at Marina Bay in Antigua. The facility, which at the time was run by Dolphin Fantaseas, opened with three dolphins that had been captured in Cuba. In June 2004, Dolphin Fantaseas was taken over by Dolphin Discovery, a Mexican-based company that operates a number of swim-with-the-dolphins attractions in the Caribbean.  Dolphin Discovery imported several dolphins from one of their facilities in Mexico.

Unfortunately, in early 2001, this company also obtained a licence to capture 12 dolphins from local waters annually. No dolphin population studies or impact assessments were completed before the granting of the capture license. However, because of local opposition and impending legal action, the permit was revoked in February 2004.

When the facility was inspected in September 2004, nine dolphins were found living in deplorable conditions. The enclosure was only eight feet deep at its deepest end. The dolphins had no access to shade from the sun and many had unusually dark skin as a result of sunburn. Three dolphins were held in isolation for training purposes.

Dolphin Discovery’s facility not only compromised the welfare of the dolphins; it also posed environmental problems. The natural water flow from an adjacent salt pond was restricted by the facility which intentionally obstructed the drainage when it built the facility. As a result, the pond overflowed when heavy rain set in, affecting businesses and private property in the area. Worse yet, there was concern among locals that the stagnant water of the pond was contaminated, which could pose health risks to humans. The only way to alleviate the flooding from the polluted pond was to restore the natural water flow into the ocean. In order to do so, the dirty water would have to run through the dolphin enclosure, thereby exposing the dolphins to pollution. The new government in Antigua repeatedly asked Dolphin Discovery to move the dolphins to another location in Antigua for this reason, but Dolphin Discovery ignored their requests.

Amidst the controversy and various proposals to address the situation, including calls to return the dolphins to Mexico or Cuba, the dolphins were flown from Antigua to the Dolphin Discovery facility in Tortola in November 2004. Dolphin Discovery was denied a permit to return to Antigua & Barbuda in April 2005, and there have been no further official requests to date to establish another facility. However, recent suggestions that Dolphin Cove, Jamaica may be eyeing Antigua as another location for its expansion plans in the Caribbean have prompted renewed concerns about captive dolphins returning to Antigua and local groups, supported by WDC, are encouraging the government to implement legislation to ban dolphin captivity from these islands. Dolphin Cove, Jamaica has recently announced that it would be expanding throughout the Caribbean, including on the Turks and Caicos and St. Lucia.

WDC is supporting this campaign to enact legislation that will ban the keeping of captive whales and dolphins in Antigua. The Antigua Barbuda Independent Tourism Promotion Corp (ABITPC) has launched an online petition urging the government to act now.

We congratulated the Prime Minister and expressed our appreciation to the Government of Antigua and Barbuda for its important contribution to the protection of the marine environment when it revoked the permit for the capture of 12 dolphins per year in the waters of Antigua and Barbuda in 2004. We hope now that the Antiguan authorities will show their leadership again in passing progressive legislation to ban the import and confinement of whales and dolphins in captivity, paving the way for other island nations within the Caribbean to do the same.

Please sign the petition and join us in encouraging the Prime Minister to enact important legislation to help stop the proliferation of captive facilities in the Caribbean, and ban the import and confinement of whales and dolphins on Antigua once and for all.