Lead poisoning caused the death of three bottlenose dolphins at the Mediterraneo Marine Park in Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq last year, Times of Malta has learned.

Two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that the three female dolphins – Mar, Onda and Melita – died after ingesting material which contained lead.

One source from within the park said this may have occurred when a weight bag stuffed with lead pellets split in the pool and escaped employees’ notice. This has not been confirmed, however.

Mediterraneo runs a programme which allows guests to swim with captive dolphins for 30 minutes for a fee. For people to participate, the park provides guests with equipment which includes a wet suit and weight bags.

The weight bags are packed with hundreds of small lead pellets. The spilled pellets may have been caught in the filtration system and ended in the pool again when the system carried out a backwash, the source said.

In the summer of 2021, all the dolphins at the park began to exhibit signs of illness and arrangements were made to have them examined by x-ray.

The dolphins received treatment for three months but the three females of the eight dolphins at the park did not improve and subsequently died. Now, the five left are all male.

A spokesperson for the Ministry for Animal Rights told Times of Malta that Mediterraneo had alerted the Veterinary Regulation Department about the deaths.

A necropsy, as well as laboratory testing, was carried out by the park.

Additionally, the department is monitoring Mediterraneo to ensure animal welfare standards are being met, the spokesperson said, without elaborating on what specifically the department was monitoring.

Mediterraneo declines to answer several requests for comment

After several requests for comment made last month, Mediterraneo’s supervising manager Pietro Pecchioni declined to answer questions at the weekend, telling Times of Malta that this was only possible “on Monday”. 

He said previous reports on the dolphins’ deaths contained “incorrect information” but gave no other details. He did not reply to questions sent by email about the deaths or the welfare of the remaining dolphins.

The news on 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.

The group learned of the disappearance of the bottlenose dolphins from UK-based NGO Marine Connection, whose director Margaux Dodds was advised that the animals were no longer in their tanks.

More inquiries by Dodds revealed the animals had in fact died at the park.

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