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No “Flipper” jokes, please. But, if your dolphin or whale needs an attorney or if you need to know if your aquarium complies with federal regulations, James F. Gesualdi is your man. It appears that Gesualdi is a big fish in a puddle of practitioners who specialize in legal matters involving marine mammals and the aquariums and marine parks that house them. After slowly building a client base, first through pro bono work and then by bolstering a small roster of paying clients, Gesualdi has cornered a niche market filled by less than a handful of attorneys around the country. “I took a big chance when I decided to open my own practice and focus on this area of law,” the Islip, N.Y.-based Gesualdi said. “But it seems to be working. About half my practice is related to marine mammals and aquariums, zoos and marine facilities. It’s a close community and I get a lot of referrals from clients or people that know me as being involved.” Gesualdi does not consider himself an animal rights activist. He has participated in rule-making on mammal exhibition and display regulations; been a consultant to sea-locked countries on U.S. regulations; and has taught courses on regulatory matters and ethical considerations pertaining to animals. Add into that mix his volunteer work with numerous organizations and what you have is one person fully committed to marine mammals. “I was uncertain if I wanted to continue practicing law until I got involved with the dolphins,” Gesualdi said. “The kind of work I do and the people that I get to work with has changed everything. I love what I do now.” TOOK THE PLUNGE Gesualdi decided to take the plunge into the aquatic area after a peaceful week’s get-away through “Swim with the Dolphins” in Florida in 1989. At that time, he was a commercial litigator with White & Case in New York. “I found an opportunity to swim with the dolphins with a group of cancer patients for a week in Florida,” Gesualdi said. “I got to swim with one of the last dolphins from the ‘Flipper’ television show. Those times have stayed with me since.” His swim not only provided him with a time to reflect, but with the motivation to accept pro bono work for the Dolphin Research Center in Florida through White & Case. From then on, he was hooked, and his decade-long legal involvement with marine mammals began. In 1991, he relocated to Long Island and took an associate’s position with Lamb & Barnosky (formerly known as Cahn Wishod & Lamb) in Melville. He continued practicing in the areas of land use and environmental law, which he had begun during his stint with White & Case. He also expanded his marine mammal work to include an animal trainers union and a trade organization that serviced aquariums, zoos and mammal parks: the Alliance of Marine Mammals Parks and Aquariums in Alexandra, Va. The Alliance represents around 40 aquariums, marine parks and zoos around the country, with a few international members. FEDERAL LAWS AT ISSUE The bulk of Gesualdi’s work revolves around the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act, which are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, respectively. Once, he recalled, he was involved in what amounted to a dolphin custody battle in Florida. But primarily Gesualdi reviews existing or new facilities to make sure they comply with the numerous criteria set down by the federal government. Gesualdi also keeps tabs on proposed legislation to make sure changes are favorable for his water-based friends through The Alliance. “We monitor the two laws that pertain to us and get involved with the legislative process when changes are proposed,” said Marilee Menard, executive director of The Alliance. “Jim helps us stay on top of things. We’re lucky to have him. You could count on one hand the number of attorneys, nationwide, who do this kind of work.” Menard’s assertion that attorneys who specialize in marine mammals are a rare breed seems to hold water. Calls placed nationwide to animal welfare and rights groups, such as the Animal League Defense Fund, confirm that their attorneys do not focus solely on marine mammals, nor are they aware of any attorneys who do. A RARE BREED In fact, the number of law firms that include the broader-based specialty of animal rights and endangered species are a rarity as well. Attorney Daniel Vice of the Washington, D.C., firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein said that there are only a few law firms in the country that specialize in animal rights and endangered species. He was unaware of any firms or attorneys that narrowed the field to marine mammals and their facilities. “It is an extremely narrow focus,” Vice said. “Our firm handles marine mammal cases, but I can’t say I know of anyone who specializes in marine mammals.” In addition to his United States clients, Gesualdi been a consultant to groups based in the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Tahiti, among others, who were exploring founding aquariums with hopes of exporting marine mammals to the United States. Foreign facilities who export animals to the U.S. must comply with United States regulations, Gesualdi explained. About a year and a half ago, Gesualdi, 38, decided to break out on his own to try and increase the amount of time he spends working with marine mammal issues and carve out a niche for himself. So far, things seemed to be going as he had hoped. He said that his practice now seems to be evenly split between marine mammal work and his other specialty — land use and municipal law. “I love what I do and I love my clients,” Gesualdi said. “I don’t think that there are many attorneys who can say that.” HOFSTRA LAW GRADUATE Gesualdi graduated from St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. in 1984 with a B.A. in government and received a masters degree in political science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1985. He graduated from Hofstra University School of Law with distinction in 1988. He was the Notes & Comments Editor with Hofstra Law Review. He is a faculty member of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s “Zoo School” and a past chair of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers’ Division’s Animal Protection committee. He also headed a committee that sought to create the Long Island Aquarium in the Town of Islip. He is a board member of Atlantis Marine World, a new aquarium in Riverhead. Gesualdi has received awards for his pro bono work from the New York State Bar Association, the Suffolk County Bar Association, the Suffolk County Bar Pro Bono Foundation and the Town of Islip. He delivered a convocation address titled, “Timeless Lessons From My Decade with the Dolphins,” for the political science department of the State University of New York at Stony Brook in May, and was given the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Gesualdi lives in Islip with his wife, Valerie Rowland Gesualdi, and their two daughters, Mariel and Maeve.

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