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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, August 23, 2001

Dolphin facility's move to Maui opposed

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

WAILUKU, Maui — A proposal that prohibits the exhibition of dolphins has been introduced to the Maui County Council in an attempt to block the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory in Honolulu from moving to the Valley Isle.

The measure, sponsored by Councilwoman Jo Anne Johnson, is aimed at the laboratory's Dolphin Institute research facility, planned for the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation's $20 million Maui Nui Park development in North Kihei.

"I can't stand to sit by and let it happen,'' Johnson said yesterday.

Johnson said her stand against the exhibition of dolphins in captivity is backed by "overwhelming opposition'' in the community, and she hopes the county can play a leading role in an effort to eliminate the profit motive for dolphin exhibitions.

But Dolphin Institute President Louis Herman said in a statement that Johnson's measure would only serve to label the county as "anti-education'' and "anti-research."

"(The Dolphin Institute) is not and never has been a commercial exhibition of performing dolphins, as opponents would have you believe,'' he said.

Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory, which would be known as the Dolphin Institute on Maui, has a worldwide reputation for its research findings on dolphins and whales.

The planned Maui Nui Park complex includes a plantation village, indoor amphitheater, lu'au garden, wedding chapel, retail shops, wharf and boat rides — as well as the 15,500-square-foot Dolphin Institute facility, which was previously earmarked for completion by late 2002.

In September 2000, when the project was approved by the Maui Planning Commission, Herman said the institute would not engage in the kind of public performances seen at Sea Life Park, Sea World and other marine parks. However, plans do call for bleacher-type seating for demonstrations by the dolphins and their trainers.

In previous hearings on Maui, Herman said the move was necessary to provide the dolphins with a larger, more suitable environment.

The ordinance, which has been referred to the council's Human Services and Economic Development Committee, would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to exhibit captive dolphins and whales. Violators would face fines of no more than $1,000 and as much as one year in prison.

Greg Kaufman, president of the Pacific Whale Foundation, said the bill would send a message to the world that Maui cares about the welfare of whales and dolphins and prefers to enjoy them wild and free.

The Pacific Whale Foundation has helped gather more than 10,000 signatures in a petition against captive dolphins on Maui.

Herman suggested that the anti-Dolphin Institute campaign is based on a belief the organization is a threat to replace the Pacific Whale Foundation as Maui's major marine mammal education and research outfit.