I have included this article by Doug in my autobiography because it shows the true character of the people who have absolute power over dolphins in captivity and also the lengths they will try to go to in pursuing their own agendas. First published in the Bellerive Foundation Magazine in the early 1990s.
"Custer's Last Stand"
by Doug Cartlidge
In recent weeks, PRIDE, Zoo Check and marine mammal consultant Doug Cartlidge have been working round the clock to set-up the Turks and Caicos Rehabilitation and Release Centre. The first candidate to be reunited with its natural habitat should have been Rocky, the dolphin that has endured years of solitary confinement in the concrete tanks of Morecambe Marineland in the U.K. But even with widespread public support - and armed with CITES papers and High Court writs - they have discovered that even the best laid plans can be spiked by an industry which is becoming increasingly desperate to survive.
In late October, after more than three months of tense and at times very complex negotiations, the future of 'Rocky' the dolphin was ﬁnally settled. His owner even turned down a last ditch attempt by the dolphinarium industry to block his retirement - the offer of an outrageous sum of money to buy him.
Rocky was captured in April 1971 off the Florida Panhandle, and arrived at Morecambe Marineland later that year - a two year old dolphin measuring less than six feet. He subsequently languished in his concrete prison for over 18 years. Prior to the establishment of a retirement centre for dolphins, his only possibility for release would have been through death.
Even before the ink had dried on the agreement and only hours before we were due to bring in our own experienced team, Rocky's 'trainer,' John Braithwaite, who is totally opposed to the rehabilitation project, secretly moved the dolphin to Flamingo Land Zoo in North Yorkshire.
Braithwaite's claim that the pool's heating had failed, requiring a swift and "emergency move" is presently being investigated by the Department of Enviroment (DoE) - for several reasons. To begin with, the DoE is well aware that emergency heating was due to be installed - in fact the engineer was actually banging on the dolphinarium's door trying to get in! Secondly, the DoE will also be asking Braithwaite why - if the move was so desperately urgent - he sent out invitations to selected journalists, yet failed to inform the dolphin's owner, his agents, or the DoE as required by law.
Based on past experiences, "emergency moves" usually go unchallenged. However, even if the above information was not sufﬁcient to question Braithwaite's motives, he must also find an answer to another question mark hanging over his conduct. The day before Rocky was moved, I contacted two separate departments within the DoE, advising them of the information I had just received: that dolphin transport equipment was being moved from Flamingo Land to Morecambe. It must now also be asked: just how many people were aware of the "emergency move," and for how long had those people been planning it?
Peter Bloom, owner of the three female dolphins resident at Flamingo Land Zoo, was clearly upset when he discovered he would not be keeping Rocky "for more than a few weeks". Rocky obviously needed more time to "do his business" with the females and eventually bring Bloom a much-desired dolphin calf. Claims that Rocky was ill and that he was in love began to spew from a minority of the media - significantly, those who had wanted but had failed to obtain the exclusive rights to the story of Rocky's retirement in the Caribbean. In an effort to honour the conﬁdential agreement with Rocky's owner, Zoo Check initially made no comment. At that time, we also felt there was no pressing need to do so: Zoo Check, after all, is Rocky's legal guardian, and Peter Bloom had promised that, if presented with the correct papers, he would even help prepare and load Rocky for transportation.
As the date of the move to the Caribbean edged closer, the industry's panic appeared to grow to almost hysterical proportions. To ensure that the planned move went as smoothly as possible and to calm any fears, Zoo Check obtained the services of one of the best dolphin vets in the world. Dr. Deke Beusse's experience in cetacean transportation is second to none and in fact he came highly recommended even by the oceanarium industry itself by which he is employed in the USA.
Some of our supporters questioned the wisdom of allowing anyone from "the industry" to be a party to the project, but we decided that such concern was secondary to the needs of Rocky. Dr Beusse was not informed of the politics of our project; he was simply contracted to give his professional advice in ascertaining the dolphin's level of ﬁtness to travel. If he was deemed healthy, Deke Beusse was to supervise the journey. After examining Rocky, Dr Beusse informed everyone that the dolphin was indeed ﬁt and ready for the journey. Bloom objected but failed dismally to give any justiﬁable reasons for his opposition to the move.
It wasn't until the Zoo Check transport team arrived at the main gates of Flamingo Land Zoo at 3.15pm on Saturday December 1st that we became aware of any possible problem. 'Security staff' manning the main gates refused to allow us to enter the Zoo grounds. Even after they were shown documents conﬁrming that we were acting as legal guardians of the dolphin, they continued to deny us access. The only concession offered was that Dr Beusse would be allowed to enter, on his own. All our requests for one of the Zoo Check party to be allowed to accompany him, to act as a witness, or simply to give moral support, were denied. To prevent delay and attempt to discover what was going on, Dr Beusse then entered alone. What happened to Deke Beusse from then on is something I personally will never forget or forgive the industry for, especially Peter Bloom.
From the moment he entered the dolphinarium, Beusse was subjected to verbal threats and abuse from some of those present. He spent long periods on the telephone, explaining to some of his clients in America why he was working for us. It was no coincidence that Deke's clients back home just happened to know Bloom's telephone number and that Deke Beusse was there. Even independent observers from British Divers Marine Rescue, who witnessed the pressure exerted on Deke Beusse, expressed their disgust over the use of such shameful tactics.
Throughout all the pressure and in the face of even greater problems when he returned home, Deke Beusse stood by his initial statement: "Rocky is ﬁt and well enough to travel." He based his judgement on the dolphin's health and welfare, not on the wishes of those whose motives were clearly for personal gain. For me, Deke Beusse's conduct, in the face of such hostility, was that of an honourable and courageous man - and that in itself is something the rest of the industry could beneﬁt from.
According to Deke, a Ministry of Fisheries and Food (MAFF) vet present at the dolphinarium had informed him that Rocky was unﬁt to travel. It transpires that the gentleman in question, Mr Harvey Pickup, who qualiﬁed from veterinary school in 1988, is also a vet for Flamingo Land Zoo.
Throughout the whole episode, Mr Pickup failed to explain the reasons for his decision to any Zoo Check representative. Nor did he provide any identiﬁcation to prove his credentials. However, he did state that if another blood sample was taken and it showed a decrease in the "high" white cell count, Rocky could still be moved. He never once acknowledged that the supposedly "high" white cell count appeared in a blood sample taken after the dolphin's transportation from Morecambe, or that previous blood samples - including the white cell count - had all been within normal ranges. Pickup nevertheless imposed restrictions on where future blood samples could be analyzed; one being a local laboratory in Wetherby and the other, the lab of industry vets Taylor and Greenwood.
The fact that at no time prior to our arrival at Flamingo Land had this restriction been brought to our notice caused some concem - it was obviously a deliberate attempt to prevent Rocky's planned departure. Our fears were reinforced when, later in the evening, we were informed that our transport lorry, which had been parked inside the zoo grounds, was not going to be allowed near the dolphinarium because it was "too large". We managed to leap this hurdle by hiring a smaller one, even though it was already midnight! But we were then also informed that Dr Beusse would not be permitted to carry out any veterinary treatment on Rocky, including the taking of another blood sample, because he was "not qualiﬁed to practice in the UK". They had conveniently forgotten that the previous blood sample, whose results were preventing Rocky's move, had been taken by Peter Bloom, who has no veterinary qualiﬁcations whatsoever. After more delays, and after Bloom had been informed by his contacts in America that it would not be advisable to continue preventing Dr Beusse from taking the blood sample, we felt we were close to overcoming all the problems.
When the written prohibition notice, which had been promised by 8.30pm, was eventually delivered at 10pm, we knew we would still have problems, especially meeting our schedule. Even if we could get the blood sample analyzed - we had found a reputable laboratory willing to open specially for us, and had borrowed a blood centrifuge from Scarborough Hospital - getting the sample was now looking doubtful. When Dr Beusse informed us that the water had not yet been lowered, we felt sure that the delaying tactics being employed would simply increase. It was then decided, after frantic messages from solicitors who had checked the prohibition notice, that the legislation quoted did not exist, and that we would need a High Court writ to get inside the zoo grounds. A writ was subsequently applied for and we received it just after midnight, from a solicitor who had been dragged out of bed in York.
At 1am, armed with the High Court writ, we attempted a last ditch effort just to get to Rocky. Even if we couldn't take him, we felt we should at least leave someone with him to ensure his safety. On entering the zoo grounds we were confronted by the park's 'security' but continued to walk peacefully towards the dolphinarium. Once out of sight of the main gate and away from the lights of the attendant TV crews, we were attacked by zoo staff who came out of the bushes and from behind fences. The ﬁrst person to be injured was a photographer from the Mail on Sunday, the newspaper that has raised almost £70,000 through public appeals for the Turks and Caicos project. He was hit in the mouth and his camera equipment was damaged. Other members of our party were punched and kicked, but the cries for help of the women with us were ignored by police officers nearby. It was obvious that to continue would result in serious injury, so we decided to withdraw back to main gate and the safety of the television cameras.
Rocky did not depart for his well deserved retirement on time. However, his departure has only been delayed. Even though the dolphinarium industry are coming together for their 'Custer's Last Stand,' supporting each other in ways they have never considered in the past, we are determined that Rocky will eventually be released into the 80 acre fenced lagoon of the Turks and Caicos, and enjoy the rest of his life in retirement, without having to perform several times a day, seven days a week until he eventually dies.
On 13 January Rocky at last said goodbye to the squalid concrete tanks of the oceanarium industry that he had endured for so long. Courtesy of British Airways, he was ﬂown to Caracas and then put on board a specially chartered aircraft for the last leg of the journey to his new home in the Turks and Caicos.