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BRIEFS

Deaths of dolphins roil debate

October 28, 2003|Pete Thomas

THE debate over whether wild dolphins should be turned into swim playmates for tourists has heated up after Hurricane Marty blew through La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur. Three of seven dolphins in the delphinario, a series of containment pens in La Paz Bay that housed dolphins for tourists to swim with, were killed after Marty flooded the city last month, sending torrents of raw sewage and garbage into the water.

Making matters worse, a fourth dolphin succumbed last week from the exposure, leading to a decision by federal officials to transport the remaining mammals to Puerto Vallarta, where they will be kept until a state-of-the-art aquarium is built in La Paz.

Critics have blasted both the caretaker of the facility and the federal government -- which owns the dolphins -- for not turning them loose when the storm hit. Both countered that the dolphins had weathered hurricanes before and that antibiotics were administered once it became clear that the water had become contaminated.

The incident gives ammunition to opponents of dolphin tourism in their battle to keep the animals from being used as gimmicks by those with little training in caring for them.

Mexico recently passed a law that forbids capturing dolphins in federal waters, but they can be imported from other countries. Authorities hope the new state-run aquarium, under construction adjacent to La Concha Beach Resort, will help boost a sagging economy.

-- Pete Thomas

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