Dr. Rene Varela
The local community of marine mammal experts is a relatively small one, so the Juice has been asking some high-level folks in the scientific community to weigh in on the recent controversy surrounding veterinarian Dr. Rene Varela, candidate for mayor of Lake Worth.
One expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Varela was a "very good veterinarian and seemed like a good person, but I personally lost respect for him when he went to work for Ocean Embassy."
Speaking specifically of Ocean Embassy's capturing of 28 dolphins in the Solomon Islands and further plans to capture dolphins in Panama, the expert said, "They were capturing wild dolphins and selling them to marine parks -- and they were doing it irresponsibly. If you're going to capture wild dolphins, you should determine how many there are and make sure that population can sustain itself. This was drastic; they couldn't recover. I feel like that was irresponsible."
The expert said of the Ocean Embassy team, many of whom are ex-Sea World employees, "They are all experts, but the bottom line is that they are all doing this for the money. I'm not sure what the going rate is today due to the economy, but at the time, you could get $500,000 to a million dollars per dolphin. We're talking a huge moneymaker. They weren't doing it to further dolphin biology. Greed got in the way of all this."
The expert said that, in the United States, it is illegal to capture wild dolphins for public display -- and more important, there's no need to because "you can buy dolphins who were born in captivity." The thing about getting dolphins from the open ocean: "It's cheaper."
Varela and his colleagues at Ocean Embassy have lamented the attention given to Varela's detractors. Varela was invited by the Juice to discuss not only this controversy but his goals and visions for the city of Lake Worth but so far has commented only through a single prepared statement.
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A second marine mammal expert who used to work with Varela likewise said that Varela was a competent veterinarian but took issue with Varela's contentions that dolphins were "comfortable," that theme parks were "no more stressful than the wild," or that it was necessary for animals to be in captivity to garner sympathy for their cause.
"You're taking a creature that swims 100 miles per day in the open ocean and putting it in a pool that's three times the size of their body. There's not one blue whale in captivity, but people go to great strains to take care of them.
"I'd be more interested in asking: What qualifications does he have as a leader, or in business, that would be relevant to being mayor? And if he's reticent to answer questions under increasing amounts of scrutiny, I'd worry that he would not be fully forthcoming when mayor." The expert added that Varela ought to be measured in relation to his opponents in the race: "He could be running against somebody who kills gorillas -- I don't know!"