Capture of dolphins stirring protests

November 29, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

Outside the placid outdoor pool in San Diego Harbor, where Chicago's Shedd Aquarium's three new dolphins live for now, the first marine mammals captured in U.S. territory since 1989 are stirring already choppy waters.

The Pacific whitesided dolphins -- one male and two females -- were taken without incident near Santa Catalina Island Saturday, capping months of skirmishes between the Shedd and animal-rights activists.

Despite the protesters' surveillance planes and a makeshift blockade of donated surfboards, kayaks and yachts organized by the producers of the movie "Free Willy," the animals were deposited in their temporary home before the activists knew what happened.

This is most likely the last capture for the Shedd, which says it has completed its collection, but the struggle over the acquisition will continue.

At Kettenburg Marine in San Diego, the dolphins swam yesterday behind a newly erected 10-foot high fence with a 24-hour guard nearby. Outside, about two dozen members of the Los Angeles-based Whale Rescue Team protested, unfurling banners that read "Free the Dolphins."

More demonstrators were expected today at the Shedd Aquarium on Chicago's lakefront.

"Right now, we're in mourning for these three dolphins," said Peter Wallerstein, director of the Whale Rescue Team, which led xTC efforts to stop the capture. "We lost the battle, but we'll continue our fight to see that these are the last three dolphins taken."

The Shedd acquired the dolphins under a five-year permit issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1988 to capture a total of eight of the mammals. The aquarium acquired five dolphins in 1989, but one died of an infection it had when captured, said Shedd spokeswoman Martha Benaroya.

After a one- to six-month period of adjustment, the new dolphins will join the remaining four, one male and three females, now on display in the aquarium's 3 million-gallon oceanarium and will become part of the Shedd's breeding program.

During the expedition, which took less than 24 hours, two more male dolphins were captured but then returned to the ocean because the aquarium wanted only one male, Ms. Benaroya said.

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