Three dolphins captured for Shedd Aquarium amid protest



LOS ANGELES (AP)—Wildlife activists on Sunday protested the capture of three Pacific white-sided dolphins off the Southern California coast for a captive-breeding program at a Chicago aquarium.

John G. Shedd Aquarium veterinarians captured one male and two female dolphins on Saturday about 15 miles east of San Nicholas Island, or 70 miles southwest of Los Angeles, said Coast Guard Lt. Casey White.

The Coast Guard cutter Point Divide patrolled nearby as a precaution, White said Sunday. Activists, led by the Earth Island Institute in San Francisco, had threatened to disrupt the planned capture.

On Sunday, about a half-dozen protesters demonstrated at a holding tank where the dolphins were being held on San Diego’s Shelter Island, said Jim Robinett, the aquarium’s curator of marine mammals.

The protesters yelled threats and obscenities at seven museum staff members inside the facility, and some demonstrators walked on the facility’s roof, Robinett said. He said he called San Diego police to disperse the demonstrators.

‘‘We’re concerned not only for the safety or our people but for the safety of our animals,’‘ Robinett said by telephone from the holding area. ‘‘They’re very angry.’‘

The Earth Island Institute and other activist organizations contend that dolphins and other marine mammals live shorter lives in captivity.

Robinett disputed those claims, suggesting that dolphins may live longer in captivity because of constant attention paid by aquarium staff. The Pacific white-sided dolphin’s longevity is estimated at 20 to 25 years, he said.

No one at the institute was available Sunday to comment, said a man who answered the telephone at institute headquarters.

Aquarium spokeswoman Martha Benaroya said from Chicago the dolphins caught Saturday would be transferred by aircraft to Chicago in two to six months.

There, they will join four Pacific white-sided dolphins at the aquarium’s $43 million, 3 million-gallon saltwater Oceanarium for breeding and an exhibit replicating Pacific Northwest coastal waters, she said.

Last year, animal rights activists called for a moratorium on marine mammal captures when two beluga whales died at the Shedd Aquarium after being treated for parasites.

Robinett said the Pacific white-sided dolphins are common off the California coast and under no threat of extinction. They can be found in deeper waters from Baja California north to Alaska and across the north and central Pacific Ocean, he said.

All told, there are 24 Pacific white-sided dolphins in captivity at several aquariums in the United States and Canada, including San Francisco, Miami and Vancouver, Robinett said. Those captured Saturday may be 8 to 10 years old and will enhance the captive-breeding gene pool, he said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service gave the museum the go-ahead to catch the dolphins after deficiencies at the San Diego facility were corrected last week, Benaroya said. Those included lack of a veterinary services plan and an inadequate food preparation area.

Among the protesters at the holding facility at the Kettenburg boat yard Sunday was a Chicago-area man who demonstrated outside the Shedd Aquarium throughout the summer, Robinett said.