One of two dolphins taken from Tampa Bay for display at a Baltimore aquarium died Wednesday morning after frequently turning down food and companionship since its capture last fall. Its death, like its life in captivity, brought controversy and harsh words.
Officials at the Baltimore National Aquarium said they did not know what caused the dolphin's death. An autopsy is scheduled.
The dolphin's death in a lagoon in Duck Key came at a time when aquariumofficials thought its health and behavior were improving.
"We actually thought that after all our care we had improved the dolphin's medical condition," said Vicki Aversa, a spokeswoman at the Baltimore aquarium.
But Richard O'Barry, who heads a Miami-based organization devoted to protecting dolphins, said he saw the two bottlenosed dolphins two weeks ago at Hawk's Cay Resort and predicted that one of them would die.
The dolphins were taken from Tampa Bay in November and transported to Duck Key, an islet south of Miami, while the Baltimore aquarium constructed new quarters. When he saw the dolphin, O'Barry said its ribs were showing and it had sores on its back. O'Barry said he called Gov. Bob Martinez's staff and warned them that the dolphin was dying.
"It died of terminal captivity," he said. "It never adjusted to captivity. ... I expected the governor to do what he said he was going to do. He said he would return them to Tampa Bay."
But Martinez spokesman Jon Peck the governor could do little to prevent the dolphin's death.
After the dolphins were removed from Tampa Bay in November, state officials said that California veterinarian Tom Sweeney, hired by the Baltimore aquarium to capture the dolphins, failed to obtain state permission to do so.
Martinez said he wanted the dolphin's captors prosecuted.
But Sweeney argued that he had a state permit to transport the dolphins. Last week, state prosecutors in Key West said that they found no clear violations of transport laws.
Despite the death of one dolphin, aquarium spokesman Aversa said the facility still plans to move the other dolphin to Baltimore this summer when a $35-million Marine Mammal Pavilion is completed.
She said the aquarium now owns four dolphins and plans to buy several more. The dolphins will be used in shows.
The second dolphin in Duck Key - named Hekili, the Hawaiian word for thunder - has adjusted well to captivity since it was taken from Tampa Bay. It is learning to swim on cue and to swim with other dolphins.
Ms. Aversa said the dolphin shows are educational.
O'Barry disagreed: "It's really all about money."