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Mexico to transfer dolphins from park after 4 die

Associated Press

20th October 2003

MEXICO CITY - Mexican authorities on Monday ordered three bottlenose dolphins transferred to another facility after four died at a Baja California aquatic park.

A combination of stress, lowered immune response and polluted water caused an infection that killed a male dolphin named Capuchino Monday, and those factors played a role in the deaths of three other dolphins at the same park since Sept. 23.

"Tests of the three dolphins that died previously, the dolphin Capuchino who died today, and the three surviving dolphins, all show evidence of such infections," said federal environmental prosecutor Jose Luis Luege.

Luege's agency said the deaths were also part of "an emergency situation" caused by Hurricane Marty, which hit the peninsula Sept. 22, presumably contributing to water-quality problems.

The three surviving dolphins were being held at the Dolphin Learning Center in the resort of La Paz, near the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula.

The deaths came while the animals after federal authorities took control of all seven of the park's dolphins in October 2002 following complaints by activists that pens at the park were too shallow.

The animals remained confined at the same park pending a plan to release them.

But the deaths - and a recommendation by experts against releasing the animals in their current weakened condition - convinced authorities to move the remaining dolphins.

They will be transferred in the next week or so to an aquatic park in the Pacific coast resort of Puerto Vallarta, which is better equipped to house them.

La Paz is planning to build a multimillion-dollar aquarium to house such species, but that won't be ready for some time.

Authorities did not specify how they will be transferred, but dolphins are often loaded aboard containers and transported by air.

The dolphins will be held in cleaner water in Puerto Vallarta, will be given treatment for their infections and will eventually be donated to the local family-welfare agency to use in environmental awareness programs, the government announced.

"They (experts) concluded that their release would in no way be justified, given that it wouldn't contribute to the survival of the species and would, on the other hand, place the surviving dolphins at much greater risk," Luege said.

The announcement that poor water conditions played a role in the dolphins' deaths appeared to contradict a Sept. 29 statement, in which the same government agency said the first two dolphins died of a throat blockage and a liver infection.

At that time, the environmental prosecutor's office said one apparently died after swallowing an object that blocked his oesophagus.

In August, authorities concluded that the deaths of two dolphins at another Mexican park - Parque Nizuc on the Caribbean coast - were due to similar liver and intestinal problems, not to any infection passed on by animals recently imported from the Pacific Ocean's Solomon Islands.

The capture of the dolphins in the Solomon Islands and their flight to Mexico drew international protests from environmentalists, who argued the sale of the animals to Parque Nizuc was illegal and should have been stopped by the Mexican government.