CubaNews / August 2003
By Larry Luxner
Cuba has become the world’s leading exporter of live dolphins for “dolphinariums” and other controversial “swim-with-dolphin” tourist projects.
Between 1995 and 2000, Cuba sold 82 dolphins, more than either Russia or In-donesia, which exported 65 and 42 dolphins respectively over the same period.
Cuba stepped into the lucrative trade in 1990, after the United States banned dolphin captures. It has since supplied wild dolphins to entities like Anguilla-based Dolphin Fantaseas, which mana-ges a swim-with-dolphins project on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
Newly captured Atlantic bottlenosed dolphins bring $40,000 to $70,000 on the international market, though park owners recoup that investment quickly by charging tourists up to $150 to swim with and touch the popular creatures.
According to media reports, a key figure in Cuba’s dolphin trade is Celia Guevara, the 39-year-old daughter of the famous revolutionary.
Havana’s National Aquarium, where Guevara is chief marine mammal veterinarian, recently provided six dolphins to Dolphin Fantaseas.
Cuba also supplied the seven dolphins now at Manatí Park Bavaro, near Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
Noticias Aliadas reports that the mammals, for which Guevara was responsible, were packed in ice and flown to Anguilla in a Russian charter plane.
The dolphins’ conditions at that park were recently investigated by Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society chief executive Niki Entrup, and are now the subject of protests orchestrated by Toronto activist Gwen McKenna and the German Dolphin Conservation Society.
And last year, the Office of Foreign Assets Control — a unit of the U.S. Treasury Department — began investigating whether Americans illegally bought dolphins from Cuba through a broker in the Dominican Republic.
A Treasury official told CubaNews that the case is still under investigation. Violations of the U.S. embargo against Cuba can bring corporate fines of up to $1 million and tens of thousands of dollars in individual fines.
Wildlife activist Ric O’Barry, who was once a dolphin trainer for the TV series “Flipper,” traveled to Cuba recently to in-fluence Guevara to stop exporting dolphins, but she refused to meet him.
He had hoped to explain an alternative way of making money, along the lines of a program in Key West, Fla., where tourists visit dolphins in the wild without interfering with their environment.