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Dolphins’ Deaths Bring Scandal to Tel Aviv Marineland

November 8, 1985

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Eli and Edgar were two of the biggest crowd-pleasers in the city. They fascinated children with their somersaults and earned good money for their owners. But city officials said Thursday the dolphins died in pain and neglect.

Eli and Edgar performed at the city’s Dolphinarium Marineland, a seaside complex owned by a private consortium of American and Swiss businessmen.

Their deaths in October, just three weeks apart, sparked a city inquiry during which veterinarians and trainers spoke of appalling conditions at the dolphinarium.

In response, the last of the dolphin trainers and feeders quit their jobs Thursday. The two surviving dolphins are being fed by volunteers. The city council is threatening to shut down the marineland once its inquiry is completed.

City officials believe Eli and Edgar died ″because of problems with the food, problems in the water and general neglect,″ said Frieda Strauss, a city spokeswoman.

But the dolphinarium’s maintenance manager, Yoel Ben-Haim, told The Associated Press the allegations of neglect were ″slander″ and the dolphin deaths, so close together, were a coincidence. Eli died of a liver infection while Edgar contracted a lung infection, Ben-Haim said.

He said the dolphinarium would never again have a star like Eli. ″We put in tens of thousands of dollars into training and keeping him. He was a special dolphin.″

Dolphins, a protected species, are highly regarded for their intelligence, their ability to communicate with each other and their friendliness toward humans.

Eli, a favorite with children and adults, could catch a fish held 20 feet above the water, perform a double somersault, sing on command, dance on his tail fin and carry a trainer on his back.

At age six he was the oldest of the four Marineland dolphins but died young since the average dolphin lives 25 years.

Eli was captured soon after birth by Israeli fishermen off the Red Sea coast of the Sinai desert and trained in Israel. Edgar, along with the two surviving dolphins, was purchased from Los Angeles’ Marineland.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture stipulates that all exported dolphins must be cared for professionally and be given carefully regulated food, large aquariums and fresh water.

″These things just were not done,″ said a veterinary source close to the case who spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity, saying he was not permitted to speak publicly until the results of the city inquiry were released.

″The Tel Aviv dolphinarium is probably the worst I’ve seen in all my travels,″ said Linda Kochki, a South African regarded by local veterinarians as the only qualified dolphin trainer the marineland ever had. She spoke Wednesday night on Israel Television. Thursday, she left the country.

The veterinary source close to the case said Ms. Kochki used to sneak in at night to feed the dolphins because they were not getting enough food.

The source also said the water was not changed often enough and as a result it was infested with germs which caused the infections.

In addition to the deaths of Eli and Edgar, five sharks died on one night six weeks ago and a sea lion also has died, Israel Radio reported.

Chaim Sternberg, another trainer who quit recently, blamed the sharks’ deaths on a sudden drop in the aquarium’s oxygen level. He said only one compressor had been functioning because the management neglected to repair the main one.

The marineland complex opened in 1981 as part of an ambitious face-lift Mayor Shlomo Lahat hoped to give Tel Aviv by exploiting its Mediterranean seafront.

In addition to giving investors the go-ahead to build the marineland, Lahat also built a two-mile long lighted promenade and seafront parks.

Ben-Haim said the marineland had become less profitable recently and director Zvi Ephron was in New York negotiating with investors to transform it into a country club in which the dolphins would play a less central role.

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