The Mediterraneo Marine Park has blamed a support diver for misplacing the weight bag that caused the deaths of three bottlenose dolphins by lead poisoning last year.

Times of Malta reported on Monday how the deaths of the captive dolphins Mar, Onda and Melita were caused by lead poisoning after lead pellets from a split weight bag ended up in the cetaceans’ enclosure.

A weight bag containing lead pellets that was presumably left unattended- Pietro Pecchioni, Mediterraneo supervising manager

In a reply sent after publication, Mediterraneo’s supervising manager, Pietro Pecchioni confirmed that the dolphins had died after ingesting lead pellets but denied that the weight bag had originated from within the park, saying these had been banned for many years.

He further clarified that activities that allow guests to swim with the dolphins occur on the surface and participants are not given weight belts.

“During the summer of 2021, we had an unfortunate episode due to a weight bag containing lead pellets that was presumably left unattended by a support diver who was in charge of cleaning the tanks. Weight bags are strictly forbidden at the park,” Pecchioni said.

'Scrupulous health protocols'

“This bag was probably sucked by the bottom aspiration and pushed into the pool during a reverse flow cleaning procedure, which went unnoticed by maintenance employees, and released into the tank where the dolphins sadly were.”

Mediterraneo said it constantly informs the animal welfare authorities on the status of its animals “for better or for worse” and adheres to “scrupulous protocols” when it comes to managing animals’ health.

A team of vets, it added, had worked tirelessly to help the poisoned dolphins recover.

“Our team of veterinarians is highly specialised in the care of marine mammals and avails itself of the contribution of some of the leading European experts in the field,” Pecchioni said.

Other dolphins cured from lead poisoning

“These skills have allowed the other dolphins to overcome the pathologies caused by the poisoning, which took a few months to cure.”

He added that all of the remaining dolphins were “fine” at the moment and that, following the incident, the management protocols for the cleaning of tanks and filtration system had been “updated and stiffened where deemed necessary”.

“We’re shocked by this tragedy and we’re working even harder in order to ensure the welfare of the Mediterraneo Marine Park Biological Collection,” Pecchioni said.

The news about the deaths of Mar, Onda and Melita came to light after activist group Animal Liberation Malta accused the park of failing to inform the public of the deaths.

Onda and Mar were believed to be around 20 and 25 years old respectively and had been caught in the wild in Cuba and kept at Mediterraneo since 2000.

Melita was just seven years old and was born in the park in 2014. She had never swum in the open sea.

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