[MARMAM] Panama dolphin capture proposal

Naomi Rose nrose at hsi.org
Thu Mar 15 05:59:43 PDT 2007

Hello MARMAM members:


I have just returned from a three-day visit to the Republic of Panama.
For the past two years or so, a company called Ocean Embassy
(www.oceanembassy.com <http://www.oceanembassy.com/>  and see press
release below) has been seeking permission of the Panamanian government
to build a resort featuring captive dolphins and to stock this
dolphinarium with dolphins captured from local waters (from both sides
of the isthmus).  If you would like to see the original proposal or
other materials related to this situation, I would be happy to send them
to anyone on request.


I am posting to MARMAM because, in my opinion, Ocean Embassy is
misrepresenting several conservation, science, and education concepts as
part of its marketing strategy.  For example, the proposal is to capture
dolphins before any population surveys are completed.  (Panama's coastal
waters have never been surveyed for dolphin abundance.)  The proposal
states that initially 28 dolphins will be captured - I was present when
an Ocean Embassy representative stated that this number is now 18 - and
a quota of 80 dolphins has been established for the following five
years.  A research program is set to begin after the initial captures
occur (and the quota of 80 will be taken while abundance surveys are
on-going) and only one Caribbean dolphin population will be studied at
all (in the Bocas del Toro region), although dolphins will be captured
on the Pacific side. This plan is presented in Ocean Embassy's materials
as "precautionary" and the captures and a planned captive breeding
program as "essential to the study of this species."  Ocean Embassy
rhetoric even implies that captive breeding is a mandatory element of
any dolphin conservation program in the Caribbean (see the press release
re: the SPAW Protocol).  I also heard the same Ocean Embassy
representative state that capturing dolphins before doing research was
necessary to establish a "control group," although a control for what
was not made clear.


No mention is made in the proposal of plans to conduct international
trade in these animals, but the proposed quota (as many as 80 dolphins
over five years) and the plans for captive breeding suggest strongly
that this is the ultimate intention.


I am appalled at the misrepresentation of scientific and conservation
concepts currently taking place in Panama.  In the 14 years I have been
working in the field of marine mammal protection advocacy, I have never
seen quite such an egregious and propagandistic misuse of science and
conservation to sell this type of business development plan.  I think
purely as a matter of principle, regardless of one's position on
captivity or capture, marine mammal biologists should speak out against
this project.  If companies like Ocean Embassy can masquerade as
research and conservation organizations with impunity, when they not
only are just business ventures but are actually perverting scientific,
conservation, and management principles to further their own commercial
interests, then we can hardly expect governments to continue to respect
and heed legitimate science.  If there is a growing number of
politicians and decision-makers who are dismissive of legitimate
science, then some of the blame must rest with scientists who don't
think they should get involved in politically charged or controversial


I would like to call on anyone on MARMAM who is equally appalled at this
situation to write letters to the president of Panama (who so far
supports Ocean Embassy and its proposal), to clarify for him that the
manner in which Ocean Embassy represents science and conservation is
inconsistent with that of the international marine mammal science,
conservation, and management communities.  He needs to hear this from
many quarters, but particularly from independent researchers - to date,
calls for a proper scientific basis for quotas, which are coming from
the environmental and animal protection communities, are being dismissed
as "radical" and "self-serving".  During my visit to Panama, my concerns
were summarily dismissed by Ocean Embassy, and I myself was
characterized as someone who "calls herself an expert on dolphins, but
has no experience working with dolphins.  She has never held a baby
dolphin, nor worked with adult dolphins.  She has never studied
dolphins, conducted research on dolphins, nor rescued injured or
stranded dolphins." [My Spanish is rudimentary, but I think I have the
gist; however, I would be happy to provide anyone with the original
Spanish version of this statement, which was distributed at an Ocean
Embassy press conference in Panama City on March 6, 2007.]


If you are interested in additional information on this situation and/or
in writing a letter to the government of Panama, please email me.
Again, I am not asking for letters protesting captivity or even capture
- I am asking for letters offering the decision-makers in Panama a
description of genuine concepts of science, conservation, and
sustainable management of marine mammal resources, instead of the
twisted, counterfeit version being offered by Ocean Embassy.



The following is the English press release from Ocean Embassy (dated
January 29, 2007), announcing the approval of the plan to build a
dolphinarium in San Carlos, Panama (near Panama City).  To clarify, a
permit to capture dolphins has not yet been issued.



Panama City, Panama--(January 29, 2007) - Panama will become the first
country in Central America, and one of the few in the world, to launch a
comprehensive marine mammal conservation strategy.  Ocean Embassy
Panama, a marine life park under construction in Playa Corona, San
Carlos will be a significant contributor in these efforts to protect
Panama's marine resources.  

The strategy includes extensive field research and multi-level
educational programs which will be undertaken to assess Panama's wild
dolphins, to provide care for sick and injured animals and to engage the
public with new knowledge, according to Ocean Embassy Panama (OEP)
President, Robin Friday.  

Ocean Embassy's marine mammal experts and independent scientists will
conduct a five-year research study on the abundance, travel patterns,
and health parameters of dolphins along both coasts of Panama.
According to OEP veterinarian Dr. Rene Varela, "Our studies will provide
an accurate assessment of wild marine mammal health and the condition of
the marine environment in which they exist.  Performed over a long
period of time, this study will create a comprehensive view of
environmental and ecosystem health of Panama's coastal areas. From these
findings, OEP will reap a wealth of important data to be shared with
scientists, wildlife officials, universities and government agencies in
Panama and all over the world.

Successful breeding programs are one of the primary objectives of most
respected zoos and aquariums in the world.  Part of OEP's conservation
strategy is to establish a dolphin breeding program that is essential,
among other things, to study this species that is so popular worldwide.
Zoological breeding programs have saved more than 19 animal species from
extinction, such as the California condor (large bird of prey), China's
panda and Brazil's golden lion tamarin (small primate), among others. 

 As a major component of its conservation plan, OEP has requested
permission to initiate its research objectives with a broad sampling of
wild dolphins. Ninety-six percent of the animals will be evaluated at
sea.  The remaining animals, considered a "precautionary quota," will
experience uncompromised enriching care in a spacious and pristine
habitat as part of OEP's research and educational programs. Each set of
animals serves as unique and important contributors to the understanding
of Panama bottlenose dolphin health.  

 According to OEP President, Friday, "We have the ideal team of
professional marine life conservationists to carry out our plans.  Not
only do we have the skills and experience to provide the best care for
animals -- we save animals.  Over the last 30 years, our experts have
provided assistance to hundreds of sick and injured wildlife around the

 OEP identified Panama as the ideal location to launch its new
generation of marine "embassy" and education programs, due to Panama's
will and proven commitment to responsibly manage the marine environment
and establish strict environmental regulations, stated Friday.

By acknowledging OEP's conservation strategy, Panama is implementing one
of the most important provisions of the Specially Protected Areas and
Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol, of which Panama is a signatory.  According to
Article 10 of the SPAW Protocol, "Each Party shall formulate and adopt
policies and plans for the management of captive breeding of protected
fauna (animals) and propagation of protected flora (plants)."  OEP's
research programs respond to this provision and others within this

In conclusion, Friday states, "working with a government that wants its
people to direct their interest towards the sea and pay special
attention to its oceans, we have the opportunity to create one of the
most integrated conservation strategies in the world.  Panamanians will
be the majority of our team and will be significant contributors in the
development of these new endeavors.  We are determined to become a new
and active voice for the protection and understanding of the


OEP's concepts and projects are designed to be progressive,
multi-faceted and invested in four core areas: 
1) independent critical conservation programs in the local area; 
2) uncompromised care for our animals including innovative and holistic
3) economic growth through employment, service contracts and tourist
development; and 
4) effective marine educational programs.


Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D.
Marine Mammal Scientist
Treaty Law, Oceans and Wildlife Protection
Humane Society International
700 Professional Drive
Gaithersburg, MD 20879  USA
Ph   301 258 3048
Fax 301 258 3082
Eml nrose at hsi.org
http://www.hsi.org <http://www.hsi.org/> 
http://www.hsus.org <http://www.hsus.org/> 

"You are a marine biologist. You of all people must know life isn't
fair."  ("Surface" - NBC drama, airing Mondays Fall 2005)

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