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27 Oct, 2009 08:29

Moscow dolphins caught in human net of intrigue

Moscow's Dolphinarium is locked in a bitter behind-the-scenes row over how it's run, amid claims of corruption and incompetence. But while the humans bicker, dolphins are dying.

Behind the spectacular show and smiles of the crowd at Moscow’s Dolphinarium lies the death through illness of one dolphin, the alleged murder of another.

Through the training, the research and the performances, the people here at the Dolphinarium say the animals are well taken care of. But tragedy has struck here, especially for the bottle-nose dolphins.

In June, a dolphin named Baikal died of pneumonia and in mid-October another dolphin, Kolya, was believed to have been poisoned and killed intentionally by a former employee.

“It has been proved that one of the dolphins was killed,” Mikhail Kirilov, the CEO of the Dolphinarium said. “A criminal investigation is underway regarding this case under Article 167. The police are investigating the case. So, what can I say? It is a crime.”

The problems started right after there was a change in ownership at the Dolphinarium. The former management team is claiming the animals are now abused, and that a third dolphin, named Patra, has died as well.

“She was pregnant, in the third month, so you can say that two dolphins died,” Aleksey Artyukhov, a former Dolphinarium trainer noted.

The new owners are accused of being a fraudulent cover for more sinister activities, with little interest or knowledge of how to care for the animals

“The personnel which is now working in the Dolphinarium is absolutely unprofessional,” Artyukhov asserted.

However, the Dolphinarium’s CEO was quick to retaliate:

“That’s ridiculous! How can we talk about non-professionalism, if we have the best trainers and vets in Russia on our staff? They are the best of the best. So what are you talking about?”

The conflict actually sprouted from a partnership, when a company related to the current management offered to build a new Dolphinarium facility, keeping the old operators in charge of the show.

But things didn’t go according to plan – construction on a new facility never began. The old regime say they were forced out as part of a hostile corporate take-over – allegations the new team denies.

But both sides agree that the legal row is an unwelcome distraction from what’s really important: the animals. However, Valeriy Derevschikov, the head trainer, is confident that everything is being done properly:

“Where the upkeep of the animals is concerned, and their work – I mean training and medical support – the level is very high. I guarantee it,” he said

However, that’s not the opinion of the former management.

“Now, in the Moscow Dolphinarium they have only one dolphin in the show because another three of them are gone,” Artyukhov maintained.

Everyone who has ever been entertained by these beautiful animals will be hoping grievances are set aside and the dolphins can live in peace and, most of all, safety.