The Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station located in Marineland Florida, will be corralling and capturing dolphins between August 20th and August 29th as a part of a “dolphin research” project. According to George Biedenback, Director of Conservation Programs at Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station this research will involve “the use of up to 12 small craft with ~60 personnel to encircle wild dolphins with a net to handle them, collect various biological samples, and release them unharmed all under the supervision of marine mammal veterinarians.” Further details about the purpose of the project were supposedly presented at a briefing meeting on the evening of Sunday, August 19, but key stakeholders such as the Matanzas Riverkeeper were not informed of this meeting until less than an hour before its scheduled start time.
Jen Lomberk, the Matanzas Riverkeeper, was among those who were notified at the last minute. “The reason that we have healthy dolphin populations here is because groups like ours have been fighting to protect our water quality here for decades. The fact that we were given less than 24 hours’ notice before the operation was scheduled to begin is either a gross oversight or intentional concealment. We work hard to ensure that our watershed is safe and healthy enough to support a thriving ecosystem. If something is taking place that will put stress on our wildlife, the community needs to be consulted. The lack of notice to both the public and key stakeholders in the Matanzas River watershed is unacceptable."
Bottlenose dolphins are highly intelligent creatures and the capture of wild dolphins can result in unnecessary stress and injury to both the dolphin that is captured as well as the rest of the pod.
Jordan Whitmire, a Board member of Friends of Matanzas, a local organization that has been fighting to protect the Matanzas River watched since the early 1990s, and a former Marineland employee can attest to the stress and trauma that dolphins can experience as a result of this type of procedure. He explained that the process for getting samples from dolphins involves isolating an animal, then wearing it down until it was exhausted enough to handle. Since the process was mentally and physically stressful to the animals, the staff always had to consider whether their objective was really worth subjecting that animal to such a traumatic situation.
We wholeheartedly support sound science aimed at protecting our watershed, but when a highly invasive project is launched with virtually no notice to the community, it raises a huge cause for concern.