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Nature News: March 2003
by Marlene Harris


Whales and Dolphins for Display

Europe’s largest marine park has opened in southeast Spain. Called "Parc Oceanographica", the facility will contain a staggering 40,000 plus creatures from all over the world, in seven theme areas. Included in this monumental number are beluga whales and bottlenose dolphins, to be used as performing animals in the park’s dolphinarium.

Current CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) regulations ban the import of live whales and dolphins into the EU for commercial purposes. Trade is however still permitted for "non–commercial" purposes such as research and captive breeding. Conservationists are concerned that the marine park will use these loopholes to get around the regulations.

One beluga whale destined for the park is already in captivity, being held in a dolphinarium in Germany. No other beluga whales have been imported into EU States for over 20 years. The global trade in beluga has continued though in Russia. In recent years the number of beluga taken in Russian waters has increased; these animals have been primarily hunted for meat, the majority of which has been exported from Russia to Japan.

Organizations like the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society are extremely concerned about the continued exploitation of beluga and especially worried about the new marine park in Spain. Beluga are threatened throughout their range for a host of reasons: exploration and development of oil and gas, over–hunting, vessel traffic, industry development and pollution. Three years ago, the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee determined that a mere four of a total of twenty–nine beluga populations were stable.

If all this is not disturbing enough, Parc Oeanographica has plans to also import orcas for display in the dolphinarium. Last year, attempts were apparently made to capture live orcas in Russian waters for export. Many international whale experts addressed their opposition and concerns to the Russian government.

One wonders if these concerns are falling on deaf ears…the former USSR, with all its current problems, would probably consider this entire issue to be minor, not worthy of much attention. Perhaps with the present state of their economy they would be more than ready and willing to support the commercial trade in their precious wildlife. The country is not known for its conservation awareness and humane practices. The Russian whaling fleet was dismantled purely for economic reasons, i.e. the country could not afford to update their whaling vessels which were all old and literally falling apart.

The astounding magnitude of Parc Oceanographica must carry an equally astounding price tag. It is frustrating to think of the money literally wasted on this nautical zoo, when it could certainly have been put to much better use in helping conserve or enhance the natural habitats of the unfortunate creatures doomed to a captive existence.



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