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Seaquarium whistle-blower: No tank big enough

By Associated Press
Published December 29, 2003

MIAMI - Russ Rector, South Florida marine-mammal advocate, is chowing down on breakfast sausage and fulminating against the theme parks that use performing dolphins and killer whales.

"There is no redeeming social value in these stupid pet tricks," he growled, calling such attractions "little better than a roadside zoo."

In 1992 he founded the Dolphin Freedom Foundation, which promotes the notion that marine mammals belong in the ocean, not in captivity forced to "live in their own toilet" and beg for food.

At the moment, Miami Seaquarium is the target of Rector's near-obsessive loathing. He's trying to cost the attraction so much money and trouble that it will either "shape up" or bail out. Seldom at a loss for the incendiary phrase, he said: "When I come after you, it's not for fun or exercise, it's to get you gone."

And "gone" is where he wants the Seaquarium.

"If you can't abide by the Animal Welfare Act and common sense, you shouldn't be in the business," he said. "It is very abusive to keep these animals in these small containers."

It was Rector who alerted Miami building and safety inspectors to scores of infrastructure defects at the 48-year-old park, offering videotape shot by a foundation volunteer and a report by the safety expert he hired.

The city cited the attraction's operators with 137 violations in October. Then federal agents moved in, thanks to a letter from Rector alleging hazardous working conditions for Seaquarium employees to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Seaquarium general manager Andrew Hertz disagreed that captive displays exploit animals and called those who believe otherwise "elitist. Not everyone can jump on a boat and go see a killer whale in the wild. ... Flipper is where a lot of these people learned to love these animals."

Repairs are estimated to cost at least $500,000. Hertz won't discuss costs or Russ Rector. "I've never spoken to him or have any desire to do so," he said.

Rector, 55, hails from Fort Mill, S.C. After his parents moved to Dania Beach in 1969, Rector answered an ad for an assistant at a porpoise show: Ocean World in Fort Lauderdale.

But he grew as bored as his co-stars did, he says.

He also grew disenchanted with the animals' conditions. He quit after seven years and worked various jobs in Florida and Haiti before establishing the foundation.

Rector's favorite threat is the tourist boycott. He aimed it at Panama City in 1998 unless the city canceled its dolphin-feeding program.

[Last modified December 29, 2003, 01:01:24]

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