Bruges Boudewijn Seapark : the time of the catches
For the Bruges Boudewijn Seapark, the time of the catches is now forgotten or rather, carefully hidden.
But three dolphins in Bruges’ dolphinarium, named Puck, Linda and Roxanne, still remind it very well.
This is their dark story we are going to tell you…
The Boudewijn Seapark opens in Bruges in 1972.
At the time, dolphins are considered like “the” new American attraction that can bring a lot of money quickly. Dolphinaria open all over Europe.
Harderwijk (in The Netherlands) is the first to dig ponds in 1962. While Marineland in Antibes (France) orders its orcas from SeaWorld, while England multiplies small structures filled with young and sick cetaceans and while the Duisburg Zoo starts its sinister massacre. Belgium won’t take much time to follow.
The first dolphinarium was opened in 1968 in Mellen in Flanders.
Maupertuus Park – that’s his name – brought 5 dolphins back from Florida. Only two of them are still alive when the plane lands, one mother and her child, which will rapidly die too.
On the 17th of December 1969, the Antwerp Zoo opens its new facility, this time for “scientific” purposes.
The zoo orders its first victims in Florida. Jerry Mitchell and James Tiebor are its main suppliers for dolphins, dolphins that they capture in the Gulf of Mexico. From the beginning, it’s a massacre.
At least 29 dolphins will perish.
A dolphinarium also opens in the “Plaine de la Sarte”, in Huy, in 1977.
Like Bruges, it is here also a sort of Walloon branch of Harderwijk. Two dolphins of the company are sent to these very small basins (10 meters long and 1,5 meter deep). But commercial success does not come.
Harderwijk then takes back Jasperina, the last surviving dolphin, in its facilities in Bruges in 1978. The site is now called “Mont Mosan” and only exhibits sea lions and parrots.
Between 1976 and 1984, dolphins were also exhibited in a 6 degrees water in the Walibi Park in Wavre.
They were called Boy, Leo, Missy, Kiki, Niky, Nemo and Girl. Some of them had been captured in Taiwan. They all died miserably.
Then the folly falls down again. The fashion for dolphinaria gradually loses its appeal in the nineties, with the closure of all the English sites and of the dolphinarium of the Antwerp Zoo in 1999, under the pressure of the activists. The dolphinarium of Bruges, however, still holds and is enthusiastically supported by the local politicians. They all mention the “well-being” of its residents, but especially the economic interests of such an attraction in terms of employment.
Managers of this park (under a dome), that is one of the last dolphinaria in Europe that deprives its dolphins from light and fresh air, can therefore regularly tell lies in the columns of our main newspapers, and affirm without a laugh that their dolphins live much longer in captivity and breed pretty well. No one dares to contradict them.
So it is time to tell, here, how the Boudewijn Seapark was built, on a mountain of corpses…
From 1972 to 1988, the Boudewijn Seapark imported wild dolphins from Florida and probably the Caribbean, through his Dutch counterpart, the Harderwijk Dolphinarium, or through the “Dolfirado” in Stein (Limburg).
In only one case, as we will see below, the Boudewijn Seapark received its dolphins directly from its supplier, without them going first through Harderwijk.
In this regard, the dolphinarium of Bruges bears a heavy responsibility.
The dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico have indeed paid very expensive this “Flippermania” outbreak, that all the emerging countries are now discovering, from Asia to Africa.
Between 1960 and 1993, more than 1600 marine mammals have been taken from the U.S. waters for the local and the international market. In the early nineties, a terrible epidemic has decimated the dolphins in the Gulf, and the USA had to prohibit all the commercial catches in 1993.
This was also because the catches for the dolphinaria were finishing to deplete the populations…
Since then, Western aquatic circuses are forced to stick to breeding farms. Some dolphinaria succeed (with a relative success). But the births are insufficient and the life of these dolphins is too short to ensure the viability of a genetically healthy population on the long term. This will require new captures one day.
Unlike Antwerp Zoo, which makes no secret of its archives, Boudewijn Seapark never mentions the period between 1972 and 1988, during which the dolphinarium took part, with his Dutch accomplices, to the depopulation of the Gulf of Mexico.
The park even does everything to erase the past. For example, on the signs mentioning the six captive dolphins at the entrance of the dome, the name of Tex does not even appear. Yotta, Indy and Ocean, 3 only dolphins that were born captive and that are still alive, simply have no father.
Many researches are therefore needed to trace back the path of the cetaceans of Bruges.
And this path remains incomplete, fragmentary, sometimes censored. The more we find clues on the true story of the dolphins in Bruges, the more the skein of the incessant transactions between the 6 Dutch dolphinaria and the 4 Belgian dolphinaria, under the leadership of Harderwijk, becomes difficult to unknot.
The story of our 3 last dolphins founders in Bruges is very tumultuous, dramatic and confused.
First dolphins in Bruges’ Boudewijn Park
The “Marine Mammal Inventory Report”, responsible for recording all the exports from the U.S.A., mentions that 3 big bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) arrived in Bruges in 1974. No other animal is mentioned before that.
This is curious. Because there had to be at least ONE dolphin for the opening of the dolphinarium in 1972!
Several dolphins have thus lived at the dolphinarium during these first two years (1972-1974) without anyone remembering them. Their arrival in Belgium is nowhere mentioned, nor their death, in official documents.
But there are some traces…
In 1972, Dr. W.H. Dudok Van Heel, sent by the company Harderwijk BV, conducted a scientific investigation about the frequent and early deaths amongts the dolphins that his company imports, stands, keeps or distributes.
The author of this study obviously does not attribute these rapid deaths to the despair linked to containment – the dolphins arrive shortly after their capture, still shocked – but to a too high level of mercury in their blood.
Van Heel mentions some of the dolphins present in Belgium.
During the winter of 1970-1971, he says, we helped build the Boudewijn Seapark.
« To be able to fill the basins with dolphins “proper to educate the public”, we brought four freshly caught dolphins: Allan, a young adult male; Yogi, a juvenile male in poor health; Kiana, a young adult female; and Sherry, a juvenile female ».
A table was presented, which shows the distribution of this global purchase (22 dolphins) for four dolphinaria (Bruges, Harderwijk, Rotterdam and Zandvoort).
« All these dolphins were captured by Milton Santini in Marco Island, southwest Florida, except four of them, captured by James Tiebor. Animals delivered to Sweden (Kolmarden) were captured by Jerry Mitchell in Key Largo« .
Jerry Mitchell was already providing the Antwerp Zoo.
He was sentenced later for illegal catches in the Bahamas.
The dolphins chosen for shows in Bruges are, however, not those that have just been imported (Allan, Kiana and the others). You have there Milly and Sanny, two adult females perfectly tamed and healthy.
You have George and James, two young males also pre-tamed and whose health is improving. These dolphins belong to the Harderwijk dolphinarium but they travel from one dolphinarium to the other quite frequently. They are often moved at the time. Street aquatic circuses also travel around Europe, but Van Heel opposes them.
He’s in favour of a stable habitat.
“The dolphins in Bruges didn’t cause us any problems”, Dr. W.H. Dudok Van Heel continues, “until the conclusion of this investigation in May 1972.
From that moment, Georges and James started to lose their vitality. Kiana and Allan, despite of having been prepared in Harderwijk, could not stand the pressure of the training anymore, and we had to reduce it.
We had to remove Allan from the shows and send him to rest in Holland. The health problems of the animals and the uncomfortable situation of the dolphinarium in Rotterdam (Dolfirodam), located in the heart of the city, led us not to renew the contract with this site.
« Hazel was transferred to Bruges in October 1971.
In May 1972, his condition had slightly improved while Doris and Kiana’s health had deteriorated to such an extent that we had to send them again to Harderwijk in order to regain strength. Georges and James were doing well then ».
And it stops there.
From Sherry, Yogi, Georges, Hazel or James, we will know nothing more. They probably all perished in Netherlands or Germany, but dolphins were dying so quickly that there was not enough time to record all the deaths…
In January 1974, the MMIR tells us that Bruges receives 3 dolphins from Harderwijk.
Allan and Kiana are leaving Holland to come back to Belgium. Jasperina joins them in 1978, after a really difficult time in Huy.
And time passes. In 1987, 3 dolphins are still held in Bruges: Allan, Kiana and Jasperina.
Jasperina dies rapidly.
A study indeed confirms a case of septicemia concerning “a 13 year old female, living in the park since 7 years with 2 companions”. It’s Jasperina, who dies in September 1987, after two days of agony.
Oshin was born in January 1987, from Tex, still in Holland, and from an unknown mother (?).
Is Kiana the mother ? The child settles with the couple. But not for long.
On the 11th of May 1988, a terrible fire destroys the wooden facilities of the Bruges dolphinarium. The 3 captive dolphins, 2 adults and a child, perish, suffocated, under the beams of the dolphinarium, in terror and suffering.
Death by the fire is, for a dolphin, probably worse than the worst hell, an unimaginable pain.
But the show must go on…
The ashes are still smoking when the dome is rebuilt and the basins repopulated.
The “new” site will be officially inaugurated in 1990.
On the 24th of June 1988, the first group of dolphins arrives from the Dolfirado in Stein (Limburg), a place that has also just been ravaged by the fire. It’s Puck, Tex & Linda.
The presence of Puck is attested in a “holding pen” in 1979 (not specified), with an immediate departure towards the Dolfirodam of Rotterdam on the 26th of July 1979.
A highly polluted and lethal place, where the captives are dying very fast.
She was then moved to in 1981. She also resisted this rotten dolphinarium, haunted by insane dolphins, and that also took fire in 1987. Happily, neither Puck nor the other dolphins had to endure this suspicious accident, that was probably set up to try to cover/to hide an announced bankruptcy.
They were then sent in the other aquatic circus of the owner, the Dolfirama of Zandvoort.
The Dolfirama of Zandvoort opened in Holland in April 1969.
At the time, it is considered like the largest dolphinarium in Europe, with its pool of one million liters and its combined spectacles of dolphins and sea lions. The building still exists today, but the shows of dolphins have stopped since 1988. The living conditions were so deplorable that the law has forced the dolphinarium to close.
Tex was supposedly born in 1974 and his capture took place between 1978 and 1980 in Rockport, Texas.
Linda was born in 1976. She was captured at the same time, on the southeast coast of Texas, thanks to the Permit #299, directly issued to the Dolfirado. Both of them are listed in the directory of the dolphinarium in Stein.
But weirdly, Puck is not mentioned. The MMIR doesn’t indicate any precise origin for her. Nobody knows what she has done between her birth in the wild and her arrival in Rotterdam in July 1979.
Just like the first dolphins of Bruges, Allan, Yogi, Kiana and Sherry, Puck has probably been captured near Grassy Keys by Milton Santini in 1966. The Boudewijn Seapark associates this date to her birth and makes her come from the Caribbean.
Milton Santini was a mackerel fisherman.
After shooting down a first dolphin who was rummaging in his nets and after hearing him « cry like a baby » before he died, he catches a second dolphin. This time, he keeps the animal alive. The dolphin is intelligent, we will tame him without any difficulty and M. Santini then launches his business.
He catches a lot of other dolphins, amongst which probably Puck, and teaches them tricks.
Tourists enjoy, but also a film director named Ivan Tors, who decides to make a film. The series « Flipper » was born. And the affairs of Mr. Santini start to flourish, until 1993. The company converts into a “research center”, the Dolphin Research Center, well known to tourists who can swim there with captive (but supposed not captured) dolphins.
Roxanne, Terry and Ringo
On the 11th of July 1988, Bruges receives a second group of dolphins, numbered #620, including Kim (Gulfport), Roxanne (Gulfport), Terry (Gulfport) and William (Gulfport).
This order is directly addressed by the Boudewijn Seapark to Mr. Moby Solangi, Gulfport.
Kim dies the following year and Ringo disappears at an unknown date. Terry will die devoured by fungi. From this “delivery” #620, Roxanne is the only one who has survived.
Roxanne was taken away very young from her mother.
She was only 3 when she was captured, on the 6th of May 1988. Less than two months later, she flies to Belgium and finds herself forever trapped under the dome of the Bruges dolphinarium (in July 1988). The interesting point is that, this time, the place where she was captured is known: Gulfport !
Marine Mammal Productions was located in Gulfport.
Its manager, Moby Solangi, has captured over 200 dolphins in the estuary of the Mississippi between 1956 and 1989. These animals have been sold to national and international dolphinaria, but also to the U.S. Navy.
US Navy is allowed to capture for its needs.
Solangi was also putting his catches to rent. For a certain fee paid each month, the dolphinarium could receive a “package” with several tamed dolphins and sea lions, the services of a veterinarian and of a trainer, and also food for the marine mammals. If an animal was sick or died, Marine Mammal Productions, founded in 1965, pledged to replace it.
Many dolphins were dying due to stress or drowning during their capture. A former employee of Solangi has witnessed the death of 20 dolphins during a single operation.
On another occasion, a mother and her child were caught in the nets.
The baby sank to the bottom.
An eyewitness said: “Every diver was grabbing a dolphin, but not all of them could keep their vents above the water (…) you could tell by the floats of the nets that were sinking underwater that the dolphins were drowning. We could not help them, we could just watch until they die. It did not take long for dolphins to start drowning, probably because of their extreme efforts to resist and their panic. (…) A dolphin had a rope attached to the caudal (…) we continued to remove the net of the dolphins, and they just slowly sank to the bottom.”
This witness adds: “The permanent employees of Marine Life who captured this group were called by Moby later. He told them not to discuss the affairs of Marine Life with other employees or anyone outside the company (…) I learned later that there were good reasons for that. Marine Animal had already delivered at least 23 dolphins to the U.S. Navy in 1988. The death of more than 20 other dolphins would have made him exceed his quota of at least 18 units.”
Milton Santini, Jerry Mitchell, James Tiebor, Jay Sweeney and many others used the same methods and killed just as many dolphins. You have to imagine what Roxanne and his companions endured.
Roxanne probably has seen, right next to her, her little sister sinking, or her little brother. She probably has called her mother with all her strength, like Angel did in Taiji, and she probably heard her family and friends call her by her name, beg their torturers and drown before their eyes.
What did they become
Once in Bruges, Tex & Linda have had a first baby, born on the 1st of July 1990.
Skippy died in September 2000, at the same time than Terry and from the same disease : their skin and their vent were covered by fungi, and they died in an atrocious agony.
Puck also gave birth to Yotta on the 24th of August 1998, and to Indy, on the 13th of July 2003.
Both are still alive today, besides here, but Tex, their father, died at age 20 at the Marineland (Antibes) in 2006, victim of a journey too much.
Roxanne is also lucky. In 2014, her son Ocean is still with her, when he should be traveling – in the wild – to form a coalition with other males of his age. However, she lost Flo, her beloved daughter, and she saw disappear forever.
Gorky, Luna and Marco were sent abroad to Zoomarine facilities, where Gorky died.
Simo, Iggy, her twins in 2011 and her youngest child, dead after only four days, in 2012 are now buried somewhere. In the wild, dolphins never really lose contact. Just like chimpanzees, they form a “fission-fusion” society, in which individuals move away and get closer at will, in the same region.
Linda, finally, the old friend of Puck and Roxanne, has been coldly deported to Italy with her son Mateo, just to make room after living 20 years all together under the dome. Nobody took into account the friendship and the bonds between her and the rest of her artificial pod. She still lives today amongst strangers in an overcrowded aquarium in Genoa.
Her son has been sent to Spain as stallion.
The father of ALL these children, Tex, died in 2005 as a breeding loan at Antibes Marineland, where he probably committed suicide.
As for Beachie, the story is a little different. Beachie was rescued by SeaWorld Orlando when he stranded in Florida. He was released once and re-stranded, it is how he got his name. He was held at SeaWorld Orlando until being transferred to Harderwijk in 1997, then Bruges in 2009. He died at the age of 33 years.
From « elderness »…
Do Puck and Roxanne remember those horrible catches, the screaming and the crying of the mothers deprived of their children ? Do they remember all those companions who died next to them, or those babies, condemned to live a few days only in the chlorinated pool water ?
Yes. They do. A recent study showed that dolphins had a prodigious memory and could recognize the voice of old friends more than 20 years after being separated from them. In the wild, they mourn their deaths.
Why is it important to tell those old stories ? Because they are not old stories !
Massive catches are still held in Japan, in Russia, Turkey, Indonesia, in the Solomon Islands, in Cuba, worldwide. The U.S. are only waiting for a signal to recover their former hunting licenses. Meanwhile, SeaWorld has already sponsored the capture of beluga whales in Russia.
For the dolphins, the pain is still the same, in 1980 or in 2019.
Emerging countries are now imposing to captives what we were imposing them in the 70s and 80s. The tragic story of the dolphins in Bruges illuminates the present times.
This will happen tomorrow, and again and again, as long as the dolphinarium in Bruges and its colleagues of the EAZA will continue to claim that their aquatic circuses serve education, research and conservation.
As long as they will send that sort of message to countries like Iraq, Pakistan, China, Russia, North Korea, and as long as they will say to them “Look! We make a lot of money! Just do like us!”
Note: If there are any errors in this text, we thank in advance Bruges dolphinarium to kindly correct them.
A little transparency always improves the image of a company.
Thanks to Shanon of Ceta Base for her precisous help.
Thanks to Christelle Bornauw for her translation of this long article.