Aquarium protesters booed by audience Animal rights activists disrupt dolphin show

December 29, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

Animal rights defenders leapt from the stands of the Marine Mammal Pavilion in Baltimore's National Aquarium during a show yesterday afternoon to protest the holding of dolphins and whales in captivity but the disruption drew jeers and boos from the audience.

"This is wrong! Please think about it! Boycott the Baltimore aquarium!" shouted protester Ben L. White, 40, of Middleburg, Va., to a packed house of several hundred spectators about 15 minutes into the 2 p.m. performance of acrobatics by the whales and dolphins.

The incident came five days after Anore, a 10-year-old female beluga whale, died at the Inner Harbor attraction after it was attacked by a dolphin during a training session.

A blow from the dolphin broke several of the whale's ribs and her heart ruptured.

In August 1989, a 7-year-old beluga whale named Illamar died at the aquarium of an inflammation of the stomach and pancreas that caused her circulatory system to fail.

Anore and Illamar arrived in Baltimore together in 1985.

As Mr. White lectured the crowd in a loud, pleading voice yesterday, two women took a bedsheet -- containing the message, "FREEDOM FOR MARINE MAMMALS" -- to the front of the tank and held it up in front of the audience. The performance was halted.

The crowd displayed little patience with the protesters' efforts to educate them about sinister animal imprisonment at the aquarium.

"Hit the road!" screamed one spectator.

"Get out!" cried another as one young man tried to yank the bedsheet out of the hands of protesters Katherine MacDonald, 31, and Patti Cockey, 36, both of Baltimore.

"Apologize to the children," said someone else before the crowd took up the chant of "Leave! Leave! Leave!"

Most of the protesters were escorted out of the building by aquarium security personnel but Mr. White, a longtime agitator for the rights of dolphins and whales, refused to leave, telling guards: "I'd like to keep speaking, thank you."

Baltimore police were called in and were greeted with booming cheers from the crowd.

The officers walked Mr. White outside, asked him to show identification and let him go.

An aquarium representative said the facility tries to avoid prosecuting protesters because "it only gives them more publicity."

Because of the recent whale death, the aquarium said it will no longer mix whales and dolphins together in the same tank, as it had been doing for three months.

Doug Messinger, curator of marine mammals at the aquarium, said that last Monday the dolphins and whales were in the tank together and were beginning to get accustomed to one another.

No one witnessed the actual attack, he said, but for a time the beluga were chasing the dolphins before the dolphins unexpectedly turned and began to chase the whales.

About a half-hour later Anore lay listless at the top of the pool, Mr. Messinger said. "She was dead."

Huddled in small groups on the concrete pavement of Pier 5 after being removed from the aquarium yesterday, the animal defenders lectured people waiting for the next show.

The protesters were members of several local animal rights groups.

"They'll stay in this concrete tank for the rest of their lives," shouted Logan Cockey of the Maryland Coalition for Marine Mammal Safety.

"I ask you: 'Is this right?' People, wake up to lives other than that of human beings. If you want to do something for marine mammals, don't go here, work to clean up the [oceans] so the dolphins and whales can live in their own environment. The aquarium is giving these animals their death sentence. They'll never get out of here alive."

A small group of people listened to Mr. Cockey politely.

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