Lawsuit sparked by dolphin deaths reviewed last month

By Mike Save

The 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. 


Circuit 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:

  • defamation
  • intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • malicious prosecution
  • false light
  • negligent 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 claims

Throughout 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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