by Michael D. SellersKen Levasseur just sent me the link to a very interesting but sad story coming out of Kewalo Basin — the University of Hawaii Marine Lab where Ken used to work under Lou Hermann, a top level (but controversial) dolphin researcher. I know some of you are familiar with Ken’s story, but other’s may not be. Back in the 1970’s as a grad student researcher Ken began working at the Kewalo basin lab and was assigned by Lou Hermann to basically live with the dolphins. He had an apartment literally in the lab twenty feet from one of the dolphins and fifty feet from the other. (They were in two separated enclosures — two completely different rooms.) This human “buddy” socialization was needed because the two dolphins were kept separately and had no dolphin to dolphin contact, which made them quite a bit “cranky” to say the least. Ken became extremely close to the two dolphins and while this was going on funding diminished and the conditions in the lab deteriorated to the point that the health of the dolphins was in what Ken felt to be grave danger. Eventually (and I’m cutting out quite a few beats of the story) it came down to a situation where Ken, as a 26 year old budding researcher and another of his colleagues decided that the only way they could solve the situation favorably for the dolphins was to release them, which they did. Both Ken and his colleague contend that this was the only humane thing to do under the circumstances. They were both arrested and their careers were set back. This was all 25 years ago now and in the meantime, Lou Hermann continues to operate at Kewalo Basin and their continue to be questions about the conditions.So now … flash forward to 2007 and the following article appears detailing the same problems that Ken was dealing with back in the 1970’s.You can view the article online by clicking on this link: the story is saying, essentially, is that the water quality and circulation directly contributed to the deaths of at least three dolphins at the lab 4 years ago and now there’s a lawsuit by Carolyn McKinnie, the marine mammal veterinarian at the lab at the time who had the same problems with the facility that Ken had all those many years ago. There are many parallels between McKinnie’s experience and Ken Levasseur’s — with the main difference being the outcome.Here’s the article, pasted into the blog if you’d rather read it here.Lawsuit sparked by dolphin deaths reviewed last monthBy Mike SaveThe first dolphin to die was Elele, 16, on Dec. 16, 2000. Then on Nov. 12, 2003 Akeakamai, 27, was put to death because of cancer. Three months later on Jan. 10, 2004, another Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphin, Phoenix, 27, died because of widespread cancer. One month later, Hiapo, 20, another captive bottlenose dolphin, was in good health but died unexpectedly overnight on Feb. 24.In addition, four dolphin calves had died within a few days of birth at the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory (KBMML), a University of Hawaii owned and operated research facility near the busy Ala Moana Shopping Center.These deaths, which raised controversy at the time, also created emotionally charged relations at the facility, and then 21 months later sparked a law suit that UH and others are scheduled to review next month on March 12 in First Circuit Court.LawsuitCircuit Judge Karen Ahn has scheduled a conference to review the status of the law suit brought by Carolyn Mckinnie, the marine mammal veterinarian at KBMML when some dolphins died. A date for jury trial has been set for April 28, 2008, according to a Circuit Court document of Dec.18, 2006.The dramatic saga and impact of the dolphin deaths began in state civil court on Nov. 18, 2005. Then Mckinnie filed suit against her supervisor at KBMML, Louis Herman, a UH psychology professor and also against the non-profit The Dolphin Institute (TDI) that he founded and headed. Also named as defendants are a graduate student intern at the facility, Mark Deakos, the UH and the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii (RCUH), which paid her salary. Both TDI and KBMML receive funding through UH and RCUH.In her lawsuit, Mckinnie alleges that she was retaliated against and wrongfully terminated for blowing the whistle on unsanitary conditions of the laboratory and other problems. In addition, she alleges she suffered from:defamationintentional infliction of emotional distressmalicious prosecutionfalse lightnegligent supervision, training, and hiring by UH and TDI.In response, the defendants denied her allegations. She was terminated Jan. 30, 2004, due to “budgetary concerns and cuts,” said Herman in his court document dated Jan. 17, 2007 and also due to her “own wrongful conduct.” Among its defenses, UH echoed that she was terminated for “financial constraints,” according to its statement of Dec. 15, 2006. RCUH said it was not responsible for her termination.Mckinnie seeks special, general, and punitive damages to be determined at trial and compensation for loss of income and benefits.McKinnie’s claimsThroughout Mckinnie’s employment, McKinnie contends she “repeatedly voiced her concerns regarding the water quality, water circulation, sanitation of the tanks, inadequate staffing, care and well-being of the dolphins, and whether living conditions of the dolphins at KBMML were in compliance with State and Federal rules and regulations.” Because of her probing questions regarding the dolphins’ well-being, Mckinnie alleges she ran into problems with performing medical procedures and treatments for the dolphins and the result was a hostile working environment and retaliation.She also claims Herman slandered her good name throughout the marine mammal research community in Hawaii and abroad, preventing from getting a job for which she is qualified. Deakos also gave Mckinnie a hard time when it came to administering necessary medical procedures and treatments to the dolphins at KBMML, she alleges and he wrote and sent misleading e-mails to others. Deakos also filed complaints to the Hawaii’s Regulated Industries Complaints Office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claiming her negligence for poor medical treatment of dolphins, but an investigation followed the allegations and concluded them as unsubstantial, she stated in her court complaint.Mckinnie says she also notified the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association’s National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources about the well being of the dolphins and the hardships she endured while trying to give medical attention to them. Mckinnie also claims that when she attempted to collect her personal and professional belongings from KBMML, Herman obstructed her from doing so and tried “with malice” to have HPD charge her with criminal theft. However, she says, HPD found insufficient information for a charge against her.

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