By Khrysta Imperial Rara, VERA Files
Three male dolphins kept in captivity at the Misamis Occidental Aquamarine Park (MOAP) may just be the first beneficiaries of world-renowned dolphin activist and marine mammal specialist Ric O'Barry's visit to Manila this week.
The dolphins are the only ones still alive out of the original six that were brought to the MOAP by fishermen in Sinacaban town.
"The animals are still wild. They can be released. The governor of the province wants to support the release but there are politics and business interests at work," O'Barry said during a meeting Friday afternoon with representatives of Philippine groups helping in the dolphin campaign.
MOAP employees told O'Barry on Wednesday that the dolphins have been there for six years. But he believes otherwise. He said the dolphins seem to be in good health and stressed the need to release the animals soonest while they have not yet imprinted on humans.
O'Barry, who goes around the world trying to save dolphins in captivity, arrived in Manila Tuesday to give updates on the yearly mass killing of dolphins that takes place in Taiji, Japan for seven months starting September.
An untrained dolphin from the Taiji hunts can fetch up to $300,000.
He is also here to assess the situation of dolphins in local marine parks like MOAP and Ocean Adventure in Subic. O'Barry started the dolphin entertainment industry when he trained dolphins for 10 years for the hit 1960's TV series "Flipper."
He turned activist when the Flipper dolphins died and has spent 38 years of his life going around the world trying to free captive dolphins.
O'Barry was the star of "The Cove," the film documentary that won more than 25 international awards including the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010.
In the film, O'Barry and film director Louie Psihoyos of the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) used high-tech equipment to expose the dolphin slaughters in Taiji. The film sparked international protests against the killings and drew attention to the consumption of dolphin meat that is contaminated with mercury in Japan.
O'Barry was accompanied by Misamis Occidental Board Member Lovely Liezel Yape and Earth Island Institute (EII) Regional Director Trixie Concepcion during his visit to MOAP. O'Barry is Marine Mammal Specialist of the EII.
"We are hoping for an immediate administrative decision from the Governor Herminia Ramiro regarding this. While we know we are right and can win in court, this won't help the animals at all," Concepcion said. "If more dolphins die, we may consider filing a case."
She also explained that according to MOAP employees, the dolphins were brought there by fishermen in exchange for "gas money" worth P10,000. Philippine laws ban the catching, sale, purchase, possession, transport and export of dolphins, whales and porpoises.
O'Barry, whose last visit to the Philippines was in 2002, promised to come back for the release of the MOAP dolphins. Together with Earth Island Institute, O'Barry is also working for the release of the dolphins in Subic which, they say, come from Taiji.
O'Barry said he will meeting Education Secretary Armin Luistro. He said he will urge him to ban school field trips to marine parks with captive marine mammals.
He will also be at a forum on "The Cove" at De La Salle University on Taft. On Saturday morning, he will join the International Coastal Clean-up Day activities at the Freedom Island along Manila Bay. In the afternoon, he will join local dolphin activists at a mural painting in the Quezon City High School in Kamuning.
Groups helping in the dolphin campaign include Save the Philippine Seas, Dolphins Love Freedom Network (DLFN), Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines (MWWP), Compassion and Responsibility for Animals (CARA), Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Animal Kingdom Foundation (AKF), and Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBC).
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")