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Governor Wants Dolphins Released

November 30, 1989

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ Gov. Bob Martinez has accused one of the world’s leading aquariums of illegally taking two bottlenose dolphins from Tampa Bay, but aquarium officials say it’s all a misunderstanding.

The governor directed officials Wednesday to find out if the state can force release of the animals and to draft rules restricting the capture and transportation of dolphins from Florida waters.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore did not have the correct state permit when it moved two male dolphins captured Sunday in Tampa Bay to a holding facility at Marathon in the Florida Keys, said officials with the state Department of Natural Resources.

″It was a breach of state law and worse yet, it flies in the face of our efforts to protect these special mammals,″ Martinez wrote in his letter to DNR executive director Tom Gardner. Gardner said he has asked his attorneys to investigate the situation.

Officials of the National Aquarium said the only problem was a technical flaw in their permit.

″We’ve been so meticulous and careful about every single aspect of the collection process,″ said aquarium spokeswoman Vicki Aversa. ″It’s just a shame that this kind of situation has to happen.″

State and federal officials said Jay Sweeney, a marine mammal veterinarian, had a federal permit to capture up to three dolphins anywhere along the Gulf Coast.

But a state permit is needed to move the dolphins, and the permit Sweeney obtained specified that he could transport dolphins only from Charlotte Harbor in Lee County on Florida’s southwest coast.

Sweeney moved the animals from Tampa Bay on Tuesday without amending the permit, said Charles Futch, DNR’s assistant director of marine resources. Ms. Aversa said the capture site was moved to Tampa Bay because of criticism raised over the plan to take dolphins from the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve.

Ms. Aversa added that Sweeney had been given verbal permission by the DNR to move the mammals from Tampa Bay. There was no comment from Sweeney; neither acquarium nor state officials knew where he was Thursday.

Ms. Aversa said the dolphins will stay at Marathon for most of the winter unless the state forces the aquarium to release them.