By Ric O’Barry
(NOTE: Ric was in the Philippines a week ago. This blog and video recounts his investigation there.)
One and a half hours by plane from Manila is the province of Misamis Occidental, where one finds ‘Dolphin Island’, a supposed rescue and rehabilitation facility for dolphins.
Accompanied by Trixie Concepcion in the Philippines, I’ve come here to investigate this ‘rescue’ facility. We also had a videographer along who recorded our experience (see below).
From the Misamis Occidental Aquamarine Park (MOAP) at Ozamis City, we take a 15-minute boat ride to get to the facility. At the dock we see signs saying ‘swim with the dolphins, feed the dolphins’ with corresponding prices on a ticket booth. So much for rescue and rehabilitation!
Upon reaching Dolphin Island, you would know instantly that the facility was meant to be a permanent structure. The walkways are made of cement and raised on concrete stilts, with a bleacher large enough to sit 100 people. (Why would you need an audience when you are rehabilitating dolphins?) Seawater comes and goes through the stilts. The dolphins are closed in with nylon nets.
I was dismayed to see three male Pantropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) swimming in water only about three to four feet deep at high tide. These species of dolphins always stay in deep water, so this may be stressing them out. There is also no shaded area where the animals can retreat in sunny weather. Dolphins can suffer from the heat and from sunburn if they cannot retreat to deeper water or shade. Caretakers told us that there were six animals in the facility last year and that three animals had since died. Spotted dolphins do very poorly in captivity.
I was hopeful when I saw that three animals left still seem quite healthy, and more importantly, they seem to retain some of their wild behavior. They were quite elusive and approach the humans only when being fed. I believe they are excellent candidates for release.
After spending time with the dolphins, we met with Governor Herminia Ramiro who has tasked her Provincial Board Members to investigate the facility. We informed the Governor that we do not believe that the facility is a genuine rescue and rehabilitation facility. Rather, it is a commercial establishment that offers money to fishermen for their ‘rescued’ dolphins. Foad Akhavan, the Iranian owner of Dolphin Island, is reportedly waiting for a female dolphin to be ‘rescued’ so he can breed the animals.
Catching dolphins and breeding them is against several Philippine laws, including Fisheries Administrative Order 185 & 185-1 and the Wildlife Act of the Philippines (RA9147).
The Governor is doing the right thing in calling for an investigation. We are showing the Governor our support urging her to work towards releasing the animals. The three male spotted dolphins look to me like they have only been in captivity a very short time. (The facility staff claims these three have been there for six years, but these three are too wary of humans to be tame like that. It is more likely that dolphin die and are replaced, but are claimed to be the original dolphins.) It would be easy to develop a protocol for rehab and release of these dolphins, if the government will support us.
Dolphin Project Team will be there to help if and when this might happen.