It was in November of last year that keepers at the Connyland marine park in Lipperswil, Switzerland, noticed a couple of their resident dolphins acting strangely in their tanks. Within days after a controversial music festival that was hosted on the park grounds both dolphins, Chelmers and Shadow, were dead.
While the deaths were originally believed to be related to the loud techno music or human error on the part of the park’s veterinarian’s, a recent investigation and subsequent toxicology report showed that the animals had, in fact, died as a result of ingesting buprenorphine, a heroin-like opiate commonly used recreationally at raves.
It is still unclear just how the drugs ended up around (much less in) the dolphin habitat, but what cannot be clouded is the fact that these drugs have incredibly horrendous effects on marine animals. Unlike humans, dolphins are conscious breathers and must be actively aware of when they have to surface for air. Opiates interrupt the process that alerts the animal that a breath must be taken. “Even when sleeping—there is a part of the brain that automatically controls the breathing instinct in the same way as it does for people when asleep,” explains Cornelis van Elk, a Dutch marine biologist. In dolphins, opiates effectively cut off the mechanism in the brain that alerts them of when they need to take their next breath. When this happens, the animals become helpless and end up suffering through long-lasting and painful deaths.
Such was the state in which zoo keeper Nadja Gasser found Chelmers just five days after the concert. “He [Chelmers] was drifting under the water and was clearly in trouble and so we jumped into the water,” Gasser explained of the scene. “We tried to hold him. He was shaking all over and was foaming at the mouth.” After much trying and effort, Gasser was able to pull Chelmers out of the water with the hopes that immediate medical attention might save the animal’s now waning life. “Eventually we got him out of the water. His tongue was hanging out. He could hardly breath [sic]. He was given adrenalin, but it didn’t help. After an hour the dolphin died.”
It was this last hour that still haunts Gasser to this day. Shadow died immediately after the event.
Animal lovers and activists are now lashing out at the Connyland and specifically its management team which allowed the concert on the grounds in the first place. At the present time, Connyland officials have denied any instances of wrongdoing on behalf of the park and still continue to tout their park’s wild and outrageous atmosphere on their website. Yet that is not going to be enough for the many who are now demanding that Connyland drastically change its policies and practices.
Already a petition has been started that is directed towards Nadia Conny, founder of Connyland Marine Park, demanding that she and her park provide a safe environment for animals by no longer hosting music festivals at her venue. To lend your voice to the cause, sign the petition here.
Photo Credit: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ab/Dolphins_at_conny-land.jpg