The toxicology report, leaked to the Swiss media, said a heroin substitute called Buprenorphin had been discovered in the urine of two bottlenose dolphins who died last November at Connyland Zoo in Lipperswil.
According to Britain's Daily Mail
newspaper, tests conducted by a forensics institute in St Gallen found the substance after the dolphins died "died a slow, agonizing death" following a rave party attended by thousands of people nearby.
Shadow was found dead soon after the event, but Chelmers died two days later. Connyland keeper Nadja Gasser told local Swiss media at the time:
The death was very drawn out and painful. The death went on for over an hour. It was horrendous. I have not been able to sleep since.
The keeper also said she believed the dolphins had been poisoned, adding, "I do not think Chelmers or Shadow died of natural causes." Now it seems her initial impressions may be correct, and it has left Connyland Zoo trainers fuming.
A spokesperson for the zoo is now questioning why initial impressions by the dolphin trainers were ignored when almost immediately after the dolphins' death, the blame game began in earnest with prosecutors targeting Connyland's vets
over antibiotics administered to the marine mammals.
Connyland Zoo has always denied any wrongdoing, but the Austrian Times
reported that one public prosecutor investigating the dolphin deaths was taken off the case after it emerged that he ran a sports club that receives sponsorship from the zoo.
Bosses at the park had rented land near the dolphins' training pool for a weekend rave party despite protests from animal rights group warning
of the potential dangers to the mammals. Licensing authorities were also warned, but the Veterinary Office from canton Thurgau saw no reason to ban the party.
The rave drew thousands of clubbers who partied for two days to deafening music. German organizations ProWal and The Whale and Dolphin Protection Society, recorded noise levels of over 100 decibels outside of the park and away from the party area during the event.
Although environmental noise was considered as the cause of death at one point, it now appears that the dolphins may have been fed drugs by a party goer.
Fellow Digital Journal writer Candace Calloway Whiting
, who has studied and trained dolphins, and is currently a volunteer at the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbor wrote in a November 2011 article at Seattle Pi
, that "Not since Dr. John Lilly fed LSD to dolphins in the 60s has such a twisted and disturbing possibility been brought to the public eye."
Lilly's studies Whiting said, "yielded only one bit of scientifically collected information: dolphin’s breathing rates and vocalizations increased under the influence of the drug, both signs of extreme stress." That the two Connyland dolphins experienced changes in respiration was evident in their manner of death. According to Gasser, when Chelmers was discovered, "he was shaking all over and was foaming at the mouth, and when trainers managed to get the dolphin out of the water, "he could hardly breathe."
Unlike LSD which causes a rapid heartbeat and increased respiration, Buprenorphin is an opiate that can cause respiratory depression and directly affect the reflexes that keep a person breathing. Dolphins are conscious breathers
, meaning they have to actively decide when to breathe and must therefore be awake to breathe. An opiate-inducing drowsiness may have had a negative effect on the Connyland dolphins' ability to breathe.
At the end of the day, it matters not whether the dolphins died from environmental noise, antibiotics or as it now seems likely, a heroin substitute. They died from negligence at the top level. Despite the warnings and the concerns from several knowledgeable entities, park bosses and Veterinary Officials went ahead and allowed the rave anyway. And two dolphins at Connyland Zoo suffered indescribable painful deaths because greed and ignorance overcame commonsense.