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Maui Bans Whale, Dolphin Exhibits

MAUI, Hawaii,

November 18, 2002 (ENS)

The Maui County Council voted unanimously on
Friday to ban the exhibit of captive whales and dolphins.

Copyright Helene O'Barry

"We have the ocean as our natural dolphinarium," wrote Maui County Councilmember Jo Anne Johnson, who introduced the bill more than a year ago.

At Friday's hearing, Johnson noted that, "this matter has received more public support than any other matter in the history of Maui County."

"We need to listen to the will of the people and keep cetaceans wild and free," Johnson concluded.

More than 15,000 petition signatures and hundreds of letters - including those from country blues singer Bonnie Raitt, and the producers of the Free Willy movies, Lauren Shuler Donner and her husband Richard Donner - poured into the offices of the Maui County Council. The letters urged the council to reject a proposed dolphinarium in Maui, and ban the keeping of any captive marine mammals on Maui.

The bill passed by the Council states that the "Council finds that cetaceans (dolphins and whales) are highly intelligent - and highly sensitive - marine mammals. The Council further finds the presence of cetaceans in the Pacific Ocean surrounding Maui County provides many cultural, spiritual, and economic benefits to the County's residents. The Council also finds that the exhibition of captive cetaceans leads to distress living conditions for these animals. Therefore, the purpose of this ordinance is to prohibit the exhibition of captive cetaceans (dolphins and whales)."

Under the approved bill, it is unlawful to exhibit captive cetaceans on Maui. Any person who violates this law shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

"As a small child I had a chance to visit various dolphinariums and aquariums that had cetaceans. I was excited as a youngster, but the older I grew, the less excited I was about seeing them in tank," said councilmember Charmaine Tavares, presiding officer pro tempore.

"I went to visit Keiko at the Oregon Coast Aquarium before they tried to release him, and it was the saddest thing I saw," added Tavares. "The pictures do not portray how sad it was to see him in the tank."

Maui joins 17 other cities and counties across the U.S. that have banned the display of cetaceans. The state of South Carolina has a similar ban.

Maui is world famous as a place to watch humpback whales in the winter and is home to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Wild spinner, bottlenose, spotted and rough-toothed dolphins live off shore year round, along with pilot whales, false killer whales and other odontocetes.

Maui "will now be recognized as a place where whales and dolphins will all live free - and in the wild," said council member and Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa. "This decision proves we can do what is right."