Group opposes Minnesota Zoo's plans to acquire two dolphins

APPLE VALLEY, Minn. - An environmental group says the Minnesota Zoo's plan to buy two South African dolphins condones wild-dolphin captures.

The zoo in this Minneapolis suburb is negotiating to buy two dolphins born in captivity.

But Mark Berman, who heads the marine mammal program at the San Francisco-based Earth Island Institute, says more wild animals would be caught to take their place.

Wild-dolphin captures are controversial even within the scientific community, said Laela Sayigh, a dolphin researcher and a University of North Carolina at Wilmington assistant professor. But she said most agree that pulling animals from the wild can disrupt lifelong dolphin social structures.

''If you just go into a population blindly and pull out a couple of animals, you might be pulling out one very important to that community,'' Sayigh said.

Capturing dolphins from the wild has been prohibited in U.S. waters since 1989, and only a handful of zoos turn to foreign sources each year, said Gene Nitta, an official at the National Marine Fisheries Service, which issues permits necessary to import marine mammals.

Sea World and the Minnesota Zoo are the only organizations currently considering such imports, he said.

Diane Fusco, a zoologist in charge of the Minnesota Zoo's marine mammal program, said a limited dolphin supply in the United States has made the South African dolphins one of few options. Although the zoo board approved a purchase up to $500,000 earlier this summer, Fusco said the deal has not been finalized.

The zoo has four Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Two died last year.

The genetic diversity offered by South African dolphins would help a relatively inbred North American population, Fusco said.


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