As I See It

Free the dolphins!

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The dolphin is that fish-like creature that performs tricks in oceanariums, such as jumping and turning somersaults in the air, balancing hoops and balls on their noses, or swimming with their bodies out of the water and only their tails submerged. Though it looks like a fish, it is a mammal like whales. It gives birth to babies like all mammals do and does not lay eggs like fish do. Its only difference with land animals is that it lives in the sea. You have seen it—the bottlenose variety, performing tricks in many movies and television shows and in oceanariums. Several of them played supporting roles in the “Free Willy” movies starring the black-and-white Orca.

In fairy tales, it is dolphins that save the heroes from drowning and take them to dry land.

Because of their popularity in oceanarium shows, there is widespread international traffic in dolphins. Like African wild animals, they are hunted, caught and sold live to oceanariums all over the world.

Many of these dolphins are caught in the waters off the Solomon Islands in the Pacific and exported to other countries, including the Philippines. After the dolphins are trained here, the Philippines reexports them to Singapore to perform at the Resorts World Sentosa.

Last Nov. 22, a 10-year-old dolphin named “Wen Wen” died en route to Singapore, igniting a furor among environmental groups and animal activists here. A number of them have filed a petition with the regional trial court of Quezon City. The petitioners, among them the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Earth Island Institute Philippines (EII), Cara Welfare Philippines, and a number of individuals, are seeking the issuance of an Environmental Protection Order and a Temporary Protection Order that would ban the import and reexport of dolphins. The defendants are Environment Secretary Proceso Alcala, Director Asis G. Perez of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and Resorts World Sentosa.

Last Dec. 2, animal welfare activists in the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand held simultaneous memorials for Wen Wen. The activists condemned the hasty transfer of the dolphin to Singapore despite an ongoing case, a violation of the Wildlife Act, or Republic Act 9147.

“Wen Wen died because of greed and lack of environmental justice,” said Trixie Concepcion of EII. “If she had been left with her family in the wild, she would be alive today. But the greed of a corporation, and the lack of environmental justice in the Philippines, allowed her capture and transfer to Singapore. This is what caused her death.”

PAWS erected a memorial tile at its Animal Rehabilitation Center on Katipunan Avenue. It reads: “Rest in peace, Wen Wen. Swim freely across the Rainbow Bridge.”

Said PAWS’ Anna Cabrera: “We will not forget Wen Wen or the other dolphins and animals who died in captivity just to entertain people. We will continue the fight for the release of the remaining dolphins.”

The Singapore-based Acres (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) led by Louis Ng led the memorial. “Dolphins are inherently wild animals and do not fare well in captivity,” said Ng. “We urge Resorts World Sentosa to now work with Acres, Earth Island and other groups to release the rest of the dolphins back to the wild. This is a time for Resorts World Sentosa to show that they truly care about these dolphins and set them free.”

Here are the factual antecedents as stated in the petition: On Dec. 8, 2008, seven Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (scientific name: Tursiops aduncus) were imported into the Philippines after being caught in the wild in the Solomon Islands. The importation was done on the basis of a permit issued by then Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap dated Dec. 3, 2008.

Upon importation into the Philippines, the seven captive dolphins were trained as performers by Ocean Adventure Park in Subic, Zambales, for eventual reexport to perform in dolphin shows at Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore.

Upon learning of the importation, the petitioners immediately objected to the capture of the dolphins, citing a letter of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) addressed to officials of the Solomon Islands. The letter reiterated a recommendation previously made in 2003 that parties to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), such as the Philippines, should not issue permits to import dolphins from the Solomon Islands primarily because “without any reliable data on numbers and population structure of bottlenose dolphins in the region, it is impossible to make a credible judgment about this level of exploitation.”

On Jan. 8, 2009, 12 international conservation and marine organizations called on Philippine government agencies to seize the seven dolphins, to deny the issuance of any import permit for additional dolphins from the Solomon Islands, and to immediately notify the government of the Solomon Islands that no additional wild-caught dolphins will be accepted into the Philippines.

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence to support a ban on dolphin imports, seven dolphins originally from the Solomon Islands were imported by the Philippines from Langkawi, Malaysia. Two dolphins died in Malaysia before they could be shipped to the Philippines.

These latest additions brought the total wild dolphins captured from the Solomon Islands in the Philippines to 25.

In September 2011, Solomon Islands banned the export of dolphins beginning January 2012.

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