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Eight Dolphins of the Virgin Mary

The legend began in the small fishing village of Bayahibe, (pronounced buy-a-hebay) which is located on the south-eastern coast of the Dominica Republic.

In the year 1925, an annual celebration was organized by the local fisherman to give thanks to the Virgin Mary whom they considered to be the "divine shepherd" of the fishing boats of Bayahibe. The nine-day event climaxed with a colourful boat procession along the coast.

Word of this event travelled far and wide, and in 1954 a Franciscan Monk who had heard of the celebration travelled from Brazil to the village to participate. He brought with him the gift of a beautiful painting of the Virgin Mary, which was lovingly restored and then hung in a place of prominence, above the alter in the village church.

On May second of each year, which is the ninth and final day of the celebration, the painting is carefully removed from the church and placed into the lead boat in the procession. The boat is beautifully decorated with flowers that surround the painting of the Virgin Mary.

To this day, the nine-day celebration is very important to the village people of Bayahibe. It is their way of giving thanks to the Virgin Mary for protecting the fisherman throughout the year. It is also the time that they pray to Virgin Mary for protection during the upcoming year.

On May 2 2002, a very unusual and beautiful thing happened.

During the parade of boats, a group of dolphins -- some say a group of eight--- surrounded the boat that carried the painting of the Virgin Mary.

This was the first time that this had ever happened. In fact this was the first time that the villagers have ever seen the dolphins up close. The dolphins of Bayahibe have always kept their distance from humans, as most wild dolphins do, and nobody in the village could remember a time that the dolphins came so close.

This beautiful scene amazed the people who witnessed the procession boat full of flowers, the beloved painting and the dolphins leading the procession, it was indeed a sight to behold. In fact, the village people were so impressed with this unusual event, they have commissioned a group of artists to paint a mural of this spectacular scene in the village.

In August 2002, just three months after the celebration, a cruel and terrible thing happened in the early morning hours as the village slept.

Eight dolphins were violently captured in the nearby waters of the Parque Nacional del Este, which is the largest protected natural reserve in the Dominican Republic. The captures were the work of the local dolphinarium known as Manati Park.

The village was outraged and vowed to liberate the eight dolphins that had been taken from their waters. The villagers started a search for the dolphins, guessing that the dolphins were kept in a temporary sea pen someplace along the coast. Had this been the case, they would have simply freed the dolphins by cutting the fence that separated the dolphins from their family and pod members. But the villagers could not find the dolphins, and with good reason: The eight victim dolphins were hidden away, out of sight and under heavy security in a tank on the back lot of Manati Park, just one hour by truck from the village.

The village prayed to the Virgin Mary for guidance in their efforts to liberate the eight dolphins. The local environmental group Fundation Bayahibe took the lead role and organized a campaign to free the eight dolphins of the Virgin Mary, with help from the Academy of Science, local animal welfare/environmental organizations "Fundation Dominicana de Estudios Marinos" (FUNDEMAR), and "Patronato Amigos de los Animales" (PADELA) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) for help and support.

Lawyers for the coalition maintain that the captures were a violation of Dominican Republic law; article 175 of the law 64-00 of the environment, which declares that the capture and exploitation of resources that could be a detriment or cause the death of legally protected species like dolphins is forbidden. Furthermore, it underlines that these actions violate the protocol on flora and fauna of the Agreement of the Cartagena Convention as well as other treaties, both regional and international.

Therefore, according to these statutes, both the Minister of the Environment, who issued the capture permit, and Manati Park, who captured the dolphins in the marine sanctuary known as Parque National del Este, are in violation of the laws of the Dominican Republic.

Dolphin advocates are fighting for the release of the dolphins taken under these illegal circumstances and to halt any further captures in the waters of the Dominican Republic.

Richard O'Barry

Marine Mammal Specialist

World Society for the Protection of Animals


Phone/Fax: 305-668 1619