When a dolphin died in New Jersey’s South River last year, MuckRock’s Carly Sitrin - a Garden State native herself - wanted to know what killed it. So she filed a public record request to the NJ Department of Agriculture for the necropsy results. Just this last week, the DOA finally responded, and to make an already weird story even weirder, barred the release of the record on grounds of medical privacy.
In case you were wondering if there’s a specific aquatic mammal exemption in the law being cited, here’s the paragraph in question …
Seeing as the exemption applies to “information concerning individuals,” this rejection would therefore appear to be granting dolphins personhood. With no disrespect to the records coordinator at the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, that seems like the kind of decision best left to someone with a slightly higher pay grade.
Or at the very least, someone who doesn’t sign their name in Comic Sans.
This is not the first time that New Jersey has been creative in the application of its OPRA exemptions. Back in 2014, Governor Chris Christie’s office rejected several requests for public records logs, on grounds that it would give journalists an unfair competitive advantage if they knew what other people were requesting. This tactic, part of a state-wide stonewall of OPRA requests in wake of Bridgegate, eventually led to an ongoing ACLU lawsuit.
While it’s unlikely we’ll be taking New Jersey to court over whether HIPAA applies to cetaceans anytime soon, MuckRock will be appealing the rejection. Follow the request for updates.
Read the full letter embedded below, or on the request page.
After the publication of this article, New Jersey released the report. As explanation, they noted:
The Department of Agriculture has advised us that it cited the privacy exemption in error.
The report has been embedded below:
Bob Schoelkopf, founding director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, reached out to Motherboard after they wrote about this article. While providing such much-needed context, his comments raise some worrying concerns about the DOA’s vague response - and the weirder story gets even weirder-er.
Image via Wikimedia Commons