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Should dolphins be kept in a cage for people to swim with them?

A new plan to build such a park in Subic Bay is catching a lot of heat!

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    Unlike the bottle nosed dolphins that visit the shores of Monkey Mia, 700 kilometers north of Perth, Western Australia, the marine mammals on show in Subic Bay would be penned within the confines of a theme park. (Photos courtesy Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort)

    Dolphin Dilemma
    edited by Antinous

       An ocean adventure park that not only wants to exhibit dolphins but allow paying customers to swim with them, is in hot water with the Philippines government.

       Last month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued a cease and desist order against Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium Inc. It is alleged the developer did not receive an environmental clearance certificate to build the park, which plans to feature dolphins, false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) and fur seals (Otaria byronia).

       The company responded by threatening to sue the DENR. It says it obtained an environmental clearance certificate and an environmental impact statement from the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

       A U.S. military base until 1992, Subic Bay, just north of Manila, is now a thriving economic zone with a mix of industrial areas and protected areas administered by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

       As part of its vision to develop nature parks while protecting the port's natural resources, the SBMA gave its blessing to a development variously described as a biotheme park, an exploratorium and an ocean adventure park.

       Construction of the park began earlier this year at the Camayan wharf, located within the freeport's protected area. The developer, Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium, headed by American Tim Desmond and his U.S. based company Active Environments, planned to open the park this summer.

       In an interview with the Manila Bulletin in February, Desmond explained the project would bring leading animal behavior scientists and zoologists to work with their Filipino counterparts. They would create a working biopark model "and become the toast of zoological societies all over the world," said Desmond.

       In the same Manila Bulletin article, SBMA chairman Felicito Payumo elaborated on the park's "edutainment" plans.

       Dolphins meet swimmers almost daily at Monkey Mia.

       "The exploratorium will not only be featuring entertaining dolphin or sea lion shows, but at the same time provide interaction between man and these animals," said Payumo.

       "This is one way of reaching out to Filipinos, to expose them to marine life so that they will see the value of preserving the country's biodiversity."

       Animal welfare organizations did not see the swim with dolphins plan in an educational light.

       "Swim with the dolphins programs add an increased element of exploitation without adding any perceivable additional educational benefits," wrote the Humane Society of the United States. "In fact, swim with dolphins programs mis-educate the public to believe that dolphins desire our company as much as we desire theirs."

       The plan will "destroy the complex social structure of the bottlenose dolphin and their only escape is death," wrote the 80,000 member Organization for the Protection of Animals.

       "It has been well documented in our facilities that the dolphins do not fare well in captivity," wrote San Diego Animal Advocates. "It would be distressing to see Mr. Desmond profit from the exploitation of your ocean treasures."

       "Mr. Desmondís plan is not only severely threatening to the dolphin population, it also represents one more example of a U.S. citizen profiting from the exploitation of a Philippine resource," wrote the 65,000 member In Defense of Animals group.

       "Rather than confining dolphins to a holding facility, you can offer your citizens and visiting guests the opportunity to observe dolphins in their natural environment through boat tours and other outdoor activities," suggested the Doris Day Animal League.

       On receiving these and other letters, the DENR responded. "Based on the letters that we have been receiving, there is too much opposition against the project," said DENR officer in charge Joemari Gerochi.

       Gerochi ordered DENR's legal department to investigate whether Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium had broken environmental and wildlife laws.

       Mundita Lim, assistant director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, reported back that park construction was under way without the necessary environmental impact assessment and environmental impact statement.

       "This was supposed to have been undertaken by the Subic Bay Ecology Center of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, but repeated requests for copies by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Marine Mammal Conservation through Mr. Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan were unanswered," said Mundita.

       The Inter-Agency Task Force is dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals in the Philippines, and advises on policies regarding marine mammal conservation.

       Lim's investigation also alleged that marine specimens were imported, transported and collected without permits, and issues on animal welfare had been left unanswered.

       Last week, in a report to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the DENR stated only it had the authority to issue environmental clearance certificates (ECCs) or to approve environmental impact statements in such cases.

       "The department ascertains its authority over activities that significantly affect the environment, particularly in the processing and issuance of ECCs for all environmentally critical areas," said DENR Secretary Heherson Alvarez.