The deaths of three dolphins at Malta’s Mediterraneo Marine Park have led to a formal inquiry from the country’s animal welfare office.
Three females, called Onda, Mar, and Melita, died at the park in August and September 2021, and their deaths were initially looked into by the Veterinary Regulations Directorate (VRD).
However, the new inquiry by the Office of the Commissioner for Animal Welfare (CAW) now finds that not enough care or attention was taken by the VRD. This duly prompted concerns from animal rights groups that the deaths were kept secret.
“CAW is of the opinion that the three dolphin deaths, Onda, Mar, and Melita, merited far more scrutiny, attention, and certainly a more immediate response by the VRD,” the official CAW report says.
UK-based NGO Marine Connection initially raised the alarm over the dolphins after its director, Margaux Dodds, was contacted by a member of the public. Dodds claims that she was told the three dolphins had been moved to a Spanish location. Upon investigating, she found this to be false.
Further digging unearthed that the dolphins had in fact died, leading Dodds to contact Maltese authorities.
Animal Liberation Malta (ALM) also called for transparency, after the three dolphins had not been seen for some time.
It transpired that the animal welfare commission had been notified of the animals’ disappearance back in February. It is unknown if commissioner Alison Bezzina was informed at the time. Having since been alerted to the issue, she demanded full clarification.
According to ALM, the VRD was required to alert authorities to the dolphin deaths within three days but took 86 to do so.
‘Lethargic responses’ from responsible parties
The CAW notes that the VRD provided “lethargic responses” when asked for clarification into the deaths of the three dolphins. Eventually, it was confirmed that the trio passed away within 20 days of each other, in 2021.
The VRD investigation that followed the demise of the marine mammals was slow to take place and fast to conclude, with a verdict of “pure accident” registered. As a result, no animal welfare investigations or prosecutions were leveled at the Mediterraneo Marine Park.
However, MaltaToday revealed that the VRD found “anatomic lesions compatible with lead poisoning” to be the cause of death during autopsies of all three dolphins. As a result of this unnatural circumstance, the commissioner “disagrees with the VRD’s assessment of it being a ‘pure accident.’”
Bezzina has since stated that the Mediterraneo Marine Park did not intentionally cause harm to the animals. She further clarified that overt neglect is not to blame. Though she does admit that negligence to a certain degree must have occurred, multiple times.
ALM takes a stronger tack. The group told Plant Based News: “These dolphins didn’t just die because of the alleged diver’s negligence.”
“These dolphins ultimately died because they were being held in an unnatural situation, imprisoned, and at the mercy of humans for their own survival. Why do we humans think we can take animals’ lives into our hands for our own entertainment?”
Animal Liberation Malta calls for a facility reclassification
As part of the fallout of Onda, Mar, and Melita’s deaths, ALM is now asking Bezzina to scrutinize Mediterraneo Marine Park’s classification as a zoo. The group thinks it should be deemed a circus, due to its major revenue source being live shows.
If this fundamental change were made, the park would be banned from putting on animal performances. In turn, ALM states that this would present a good opportunity to transform the park from a negligent tourist attraction into an aquatic rehabilitation center.
“The remaining dolphins should have the opportunity to be rehoused in a sea pen to live a more natural life and end performing and display to the public,” ALM told MaltaToday.
“This option should be considered by the park and discussed further with Maltese authorities and other cetacean experts, to bring an end to the shows. This would put Malta at the forefront of being considerate of cetacean welfare, setting an example for other countries to follow.”
The ongoing plight of captive water park animals
US marine park SeaWorld also continues to cause concern for animal rights activists.
Most recently, an orca fight at the San Diego park led to PETA asking District Attorney Summer Stephen to launch an investigation with a view to filing criminal charges.
The attack, captured on camera by a visitor, shows multiple orcas attacking a single female, resulting in bleeding wounds.