Updated 3.36pm with Mediterraneo statement

Dozens gathered in Baħar iċ-Cagħaq on Saturday to protest what they say is a dolphin park that encourages animal cruelty.

Protestors marched to Mediterraneo Marine Park (MMP), carrying placards saying "your entertainment is our torture," "empty the tanks," and "we must Meditteraneo horror story”.

Ten police officers were on site, as several MMP employees watched on from a distance.

Activists were sparked into action against the marine park after it emerged that three of its dolphins died in mysterious circumstances.

They say the park, which is licenced as a zoo, is in reality a circus and should therefore be banned.  

Speaking at the protest, Claria Cutajar from Moviment Graffitti said MMP and the vetinerary department had hidden the deaths of three dolphins.

She called on Animal Rights Minister Anton Refalo and parliamentary secreatary Alicia Bugeja Said to stop ignoring issues concerning MMP and shut it down.

"Circuses are illegal in Malta, yet MMP operates," Cutajar said, arguing that dolphins are forced to perform unnatural tricks to entertain paying guests at the park.

Katya Borg from Animal Liberation Malta said that aside from the three dolphins who died of lead poisoning, eight others have died in suspicious circumstances.

Places like MMP, she said, give children the message that “people have a right to see wild animals perform tricks for entertainment.”

"Waving and kissing and posing for selfies are not natural for a dolphin," the activist said.

Romina Frendo from the Real Animal Rights Foundation said animal shows are a crime against nature.

"Do you want your children to swim with psychologically broken prisoners," she asked parents who take their children to the park.

"Empty the tanks," she cried.

The three NGOs whose representatives spoke during Saturday’s event form part of a broader group of 14 NGOs that are pushing to have the park shut down.

Ramona Frendo addresses protesters. Activists say the park should be shut down. The banner reads 'a park of mistreatment'. Photo: Matthew MirabelliRamona Frendo addresses protesters. Activists say the park should be shut down. The banner reads 'a park of mistreatment'. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

MMP fell under the spotlight last summer when three dolphins, Mar, Onda and Melita, died of lead poisoning.

The park did not announce the deaths, which were exposed by animal rights activists, and said after they became public that the dolphins in question had died as a result of an “accident” that caused them to be poisoned.

A report by the Commissioner for Animal Welfare however concluded that MMP and veterinary authorities had shown levels of “negligence and mismanagement” in handling the matter.

The MMP says that it operates an educational facility that teaches visitors about dolphins.

Dolphins and other sea mammals perform tricks at live shows and guests of the marine park can swim with dolphins at an extra cost.

It has defended its practice of getting dolphins to do tricks, arguing that these activities are necessary  as they “allow the veterinarian to check the health status of the animal.”

Animal rights organisations say the claim is bogus and that the park is in reality operating an animal circus. Such circuses were made illegal years ago.

Mediterraneo responds

Mediterraneo Marine Park however argued that protesters were spreading lies about the park based on outdated information.

"The park follows strict standards and regulations in line with the most recent EU directives. This is a highly regulated sector and we take our responsibilities extremely seriously," the park said in a statement.

Mediterraneo insisted that dolphin presentations at Mediterraneo Marine Park were educational and had a veterinarian function that helped them protect the well-being of the dolphins on a daily basis.

The park also denied the accidental dolphin deaths last year were in any way mysterious or hidden.

"We immediately reported the deaths to the authorities and held transparent investigations that identified what went wrong: lead poisoning caused by strictly forbidden equipment that was used by an external diver who was cleaning one of the pools," the park said.

They assured the public they had taken steps to ensure the tragedy did not repeat itself.

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