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U.S. Officials Accuse Veterinarian of Killing Sea Lion

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal wildlife officials have accused a Santa Clarita Valley veterinarian of killing a sea lion under his care and are trying to prohibit him from keeping or trading in marine mammals in the future.

In a 22-count complaint, authorities also accused Dr. Martin Dinnes of keeping at least three sea lions at an unlicensed and substandard facility in a remote canyon near Agua Dulce between 1985 and 1986.

The complaint, recently obtained by The Times, alleged that Dinnes violated federal law on Aug. 4, 1987, “by killing a California sea lion . . . known as Jazzbo or Jaws.” It did not explain the circumstances of the death and officials refused to elaborate. Nor was it immediately clear why a complaint is just now being filed in a case that dates back to 1987.

In a June 1 letter to Dinnes, federal authorities also said they plan to revoke his permits and intend to “remove from (his) care and custody” sea lions and dolphins listed under those permits and agreements with the government. Dinnes’ compound, located along Soledad Canyon Road, was not licensed by the National Marine Fisheries Service to hold marine mammals and did not meet federal standards for such facilities, the complaint said.

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However, Dinnes did have permits that allowed him to maintain marine mammals in amusement parks and aquatic exhibits across the country, federal officials said.

It was unclear Tuesday how many animals could be recovered by federal officials or where the animals are being kept. Federal authorities said they believe Dinnes has animals in various facilities around the country but they have not compiled a complete list.

One of Dinnes’ employees said he was not available for comment Tuesday because he had been called away for a family emergency. His attorney also could not be reached for comment.

Dinnes has been a veterinarian for more than 20 years and has developed a good reputation among zoos and in the entertainment industry for treating exotic animals, according to those who have worked with him. He has been called the “jet-set vet” because of his travels.

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Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has prosecuted violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the past, it has rarely sought to revoke operating permits, said Patricia Kraniotis, who heads the agency’s enforcement and litigation section in Washington.

“It is indeed very unusual,” Kraniotis said Tuesday.

Generally, the agency tries to find civil remedies for problems at marine mammal facilities, sometimes because the revocation of a permit creates more problems, Kraniotis said.

“You take away a guy’s permit, what do you do with the dolphins?” she said. “This is a last resort.”

The complaint was filed June 1 by staff attorneys at the agency’s office on Terminal Island. Dinnes has until Sept. 5 to request a hearing before an administrative law judge.

The complaint provides a bare-bones description of each violation concerning six sea lions and five dolphins. Theodore M. Beuttler, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration staff attorney at Terminal Island, declined to elaborate on the allegations.

The complaint said Dinnes violated federal law by failing to file autopsy reports with the National Marine Fisheries Service within 30 days of the deaths of four sea lions. Jaws died in 1987. The other animals died between 1986 and 1989. Another sea lion was transferred by Dinnes to someone who did not have a permit to display a marine mammal, the complaint said.

Dinnes also failed to file reports on five dolphins that died between 1986 and 1987, the complaint said.

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According to so-called “inventory” reports filed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by Dinnes, the dolphins died from a variety of ailments, including viral pneumonia and intestinal obstructions.

The reports did not list a cause of death for Jaws. The other sea lions died of such ailments as heat stroke and emphysema.


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