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10 Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales

Cetaceans home

In Defense of Animals Announces List of Ten Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales

What is the Ten Worst Tanks List?

This is In Defense of Animals' first-ever list of the Ten Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales in North America. The plight of imprisoned dolphins and whales (cetaceans) is one of the worst disgraces of our era. Unnatural conditions often condemn these highly intelligent, sentient mammals to lifetimes of deprivation, suffering, and early death. In Defense of Animals, along with a growing number of scientists and specialists, sees no empirical justification for keeping cetaceans in captivity and on public display. The purpose of the Ten Worst Tanks list is to raise awareness of the inescapable cruelty of captivity and also to expose how public display of captive cetaceans fails to educate and conserve populations in the wild.

Following in the footsteps of In Defense of Animals' esteemed Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants list (now in its 12th year), Ten Worst Tanks represents the diverse and myriad ways cetaceans suffer in captivity, even in the most modern facilities. Entries were selected from over 60 facilities from North America where nearly 1,000 whales and dolphins are held captive for public display from Canada to Mexico. The Ten Worst Tanks list exposes and represents the misery and suffering of some of the oceans' most intelligent, far-ranging, and complex mammals in captivity.

How does In Defense of Animals determine which facilities make the list?

Cetacean experts and scientists worked with In Defense of Animals for over a year to create the Ten Worst Tanks list. Facilities were assessed in-person, through review of government and veterinary records and death reports, and via image and data documentation.

The Ten Worst Tanks list is created and ranked by what each entry represents. This list is not an absolute hierarchy based on solely physical attributes but a representation of the systemic and inherent problems of captivity that each facility, in our opinion, best exemplifies. We analyzed the collective issues present at each facility and ranked them accordingly. Some issues carried more weight; for example, SeaWorld's decisions affect, and will affect, more cetaceans in the future. By placing SeaWorld at number 1, we recognize the important role it plays within the captivity industry and how far it must go.

We considered a number of factors to create the list, including health and welfare problems; high mortality and premature deaths; frequent interactions with the public; unsuitable and unsafe enclosure attributes such as lack of space, shade, or unhealthy water; exhibition of particularly unnatural and stress-related behaviors; social issues, especially solitary confinement and premature removal of babies from mothers; unnecessary transfers and relocation; invasive breeding procedures; unprofessional management; questionable claims of educational or scientific value; and enclosed facilities with little to no natural sunlight.

We went below the surface and beyond the veneer to reveal that cetaceans still suffer and die prematurely in even the most "state-of-the-art" facilities with modern technology and infrastructure. Affording cetaceans protection from predators and providing them with consistent veterinary care and food doesn't result in their living better or longer than their counterparts in the wild. Thus imprisonment, itself is the most glaring source of their trauma and surprisingly high mortality.

This is an era in which the public spotlight is very much on orcas – the largest of the dolphins in the Delphinidae family. Yet this list also features the plight of their smaller cetacean kin, particularly bottlenose dolphins and belugas, who also suffer extensively in captivity. As exploitation of orcas decreases, captive facilities must not simply expand their exploitation of smaller dolphins and whales.

Why emancipate cetaceans now?

Dolphins and whales have evolved for millions of years to live with their freedom and families in the wild. The institutionalized trauma that captive public display imposes on cetaceans is not morally or scientifically justifiable. The Ten Worst Tanks list serves as one of many steps toward ending this archaic and unnecessary practice of exploitation.

"Beneath the glitz, glamour, and dolphins' permanently fixed ‘smiles' is a world of pain and suffering in these brilliant and complex mammals of the sea. Captivity deprives dolphins and whales of the lives they've adapted to live for millions of years in the wild, and steal from them what we – and likely they – value most; freedom and family." - In Defense of Animals Cetacean Scientist, Toni Frohoff, Ph.D.

The goal of Ten Worst Tanks is to show a more realistic image of what these businesses are about than what is typically seen in tourist brochures and commercials. The list will help people understand why and how cetacean captivity should be a thing of the past by bringing to light the transgressions of businesses that profit from exploiting dolphins and whales.

The tide is turning toward a new era of cetacean seaside sanctuaries where captive dolphins and whales can live in peace in more natural environments. Ideally, some can be rehabilitated and reintroduced to the sea and even to their families. This is what we would consider real conservation and family values.

"These ten aquariums really plumb the depths in their exploitation of these intelligent and sensitive animals. Please help protect dolphins and whales in the wild where they belong, by pledging to never visit facilities that imprison them." In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick

 

TEN WORST TANKS FOR DOLPHINS & WHALES IN NORTH AMERICA 2016

1. SeaWorld, San Antonio, Texas; San Diego, California; Orlando, Florida (all three North American facilities combined)


For Being the Biggest Disappointment With the Greatest Promise

SeaWorld, arguably North America's most highly profiled and controversial captive marine animal facility, tops the In Defense of Animals' Ten Worst Tanks 2016 List for being a whale-sized disappointment.

When SeaWorld announced it would end orca breeding and performances in all of its facilities earlier this year, cetacean advocates around the world popped champagne bottles in celebration. But the announcement was quickly revealed to be little more than a PR spin; the California Coastal Commission had already restricted the company's ability to breed orcas in its San Diego facility. Furthermore, this pledge has no legal standing and could easily be broken at any time.

What followed was even worse, as SeaWorld then quickly withdrew its previously submitted proposal to expand the size of its San Diego orca tanks. This betrayal not only ensures a future of unnecessarily cramped conditions for the orcas, but also suggests SeaWorld's true incentive for expansion – to breed yet more orcas to exploit. SeaWorld currently holds a staggering 23 orcas across three facilities in North America (as well as five more in Spain, for a total of 28), so this disappointing outcome impacts a sizeable number of whales.

For its grand finale, SeaWorld essentially threw away the key for the orcas by declaring that they would never see or feel the more natural life of a seaside sanctuary where they could retire in relative peace (see our Honorable Mention, the National Aquarium in Baltimore).

Now comes even more bad news, this time for orcas' smaller kin, bottlenose dolphins; SeaWorld announced that it would open a swim-with-the-dolphins program at its San Antonio facility. As the tide of public opinion turns against cetacean captivity, SeaWorld completely misses the point by increasing bottlenose dolphin exploitation while eliminating orca performances. Interactive programs using captive cetaceans pose additional stresses and risks to dolphins that compound the suffering they already face in captivity. The dangers of SeaWorld's petting pools for dolphins, as well as human participants, have been well documented.

2015 was a year of six untimely deaths at SeaWorld facilities, including teenage orca, Unna, two young beluga whales, two bottlenose dolphins and a 12-year-old Pacific whitesided dolphin, Dart. Tilikum, the famously tormented orca featured in the film Blackfish, has been suffering from a drug-resistant lung infection and may be next. Tilikum represents precisely what SeaWorld stands for as a company; he will die in a tank after years of immense deprivation and suffering, while SeaWorld applauds itself. A disturbing number of cetaceans are dying decades before their life expectancies in the wild, despite receiving what SeaWorld claims to be "the highest-quality care based on the latest advances in marine veterinary medicine…"

SeaWorld's announcement that it would cease orca breeding and performances lacks the depth of change the orcas and dolphins deserve. What started as a hopeful declaration ended up in a disappointingly shallow fizzle.

 

2. Marineland, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada


Starkest Contrast: Solitary Orca and Beluga Stockpile

Marineland holds Canada's last captive orca, 40 or so year-old Kiska, who was ripped away from her family and native Icelandic waters when she was a baby. Kiska has outlived at least seventeen other orcas with whom she has shared the tank over the years. She has also been used to breed for new exhibits, enduring the death of every last one of her five children at Marineland, none of whom lived longer than six years. One of them, Kanuck, was apparently separated from her prematurely and "stored" in a warehouse, where he died at age four. Since 2011, Kiska has been kept in solitary confinement, which has no doubt caused great suffering for this highly social and intelligent cetacean.

The last orca Kiska knew was a male named Ikaika, who was "loaned" to Marineland by SeaWorld for breeding in 2006. SeaWorld became "concerned about Ikaika's physical and psychological health" and stated that Marineland was "not meeting its obligations in veterinary care, husbandry, or training." Citing these concerns, SeaWorld successfully sued Marineland in 2011 for Ikaika's return, leaving Kiska alone once more.

Kiska's physical and psychological condition appears to be poor. Observers point to her severely worn down teeth from self-injurious and compulsive gnawing, dorsal fin deterioration, signs of being underweight, and intermittent bleeding from her tail as indicators of greatly compromised health. Behaviorally, Kiska exhibits lethargy, self-isolation in a tiny medical pool adjacent to the main pool, and repetitive stereotyped behaviors; strong indications of severe psychological distress, depression, and despondency.

Kiska is not the only animal suffering at Marineland. CEO John Holer has also amassed approximately 46 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins, 28 black bears and approximately 500 fallow deer. An undercover investigation by Last Chance for Animals in 2015 reportedly exposed belugas suffering from a litany of physical ailments, including eye abnormalities, hypersalivation, regurgitation, and a condition in some of the females causing them to rub chronically against the tank until blood was visible in the water. Lacerations and deep teeth-rake marks indicating inescapable stress-related aggression from other belugas were also noted on many of the belugas. We are also concerned about signs of severe eye irritation perhaps caused by chemically-treated water.

Later in 2015, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) made a non-public finding that questioned some of Last Chance for Animals' claims of abuses at Marineland. But Julie Woodyer of Zoocheck has filed a new complaint with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals documenting continued violations of the Captive Animal Care Standards at Marineland. We urge the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to act urgently to enforce minimum standards at Marineland.

Belugas have certainly not evolved for millions of years to be packed into a tank – and orcas are among the most social and family-oriented species on the planet. Forcing an orca to live in solitary confinement, while simultaneously stockpiling so many beluga whales, is Marineland's tragic dichotomy, and a horrific example of cetacean captivity.

 

3. Puerto Aventuras Dolphin Discovery, Mayan Rivera, Quintana Roo, Mexico


For Being the Dirtiest and Most Distressing Dolphin Disgrace

Puerto Aventuras Dolphin Discovery is a captive swim-with-dolphin and tourist/cruise ship destination in the Riviera Maya near Cancun. While tourists may expect turquoise-clear waters in the "large" enclosures advertised by the facility, they will instead see a murky aquatic cage full of dolphins. The pens share water with an adjacent active boat marina where pollution from feces, motor oil, and petrol abound. The water is apparently so filthy that children participating in the dolphin swim-with program are asked to avoid getting water in their mouths. Acoustic pollution is another concern, given the dolphins' proximity to the boat engines in the marina and from being surrounded by noisy hotels, bars and restaurants playing loud music.

In Defense of Animals observed very serious-looking wounds and other injuries on several dolphins, including abrasions on their faces, likely from chronic pushing against enclosure barriers, a stereotypic, stress-related behavior observed in captivity. One of the dolphins also appeared to have a severe injury and infection on the tail; especially troubling given the challenges of healing in water of such suspect quality.

Imprisoned dolphins are coerced to perform unnatural behaviors such as giving "kisses," "hugs," and "rides" to the paying public, placing them at an increased risk of physical and psychological harm. Tourists pay a monetary fee for their contrived experiences – but the dolphins pay with the loss of their family bonds, freedom and psychological and physical welfare. Puerto Aventuras is owned by Dolphin Discovery, a Mexican company that owns, at least, a staggering 24 captive dolphin facilities including our #6 entry, Six Flags Mexico. It is time to shut down this dirty dolphin disgrace.

 

4. Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta Georgia (also Marineland Dolphin Adventure in St. Augustine, Florida)


For Stocking The Dying Pools

The Georgia Aquarium is one of the most active players in the cetacean exploitation captivity industry. Its string of sins includes attempting to import wild-caught beluga whales from Russia, hosting swim-with-dolphin programs, holding belugas inside an enclosed building, and shipping belugas across the country with no apparent regard for their social, psychological, and physical well-being.

We call Georgia Aquarium the "dying pool" owing to three beluga whale deaths at the facility between 2012 and 2015. Maris, a captive-born beluga, lost her first-born calf only a few days after giving birth. Her second calf died after 26 days. Five months later, Maris herself died at just 20 years old, falling well short of her potential 70-year maximum lifespan. Despite these major failures, the Georgia Aquarium put additional beluga lives at risk by leading an attempt to import 18 wild-caught belugas from the Russian Far East in 2012. The National Marine Fisheries Service denied the import permit, citing the negative impact on declining wild populations, and that five of the beluga whales in question were so young they were likely still nursing from their mothers. Ignoring the welfare and conservation concerns, Georgia Aquarium unsuccessfully took the National Marine Fisheries Service to court in its attempts to override the ruling.

Georgia Aquarium ships beluga whales and dolphins between facilities with disregard for their close social needs. On a single day in February 2016, they were involved in transporting four belugas to and from marine park facilities across the country.

Beyond belugas, thirteen dolphins are held captive at the Georgia Aquarium. The company also owns Marineland Dolphin Adventure in St. Augustine, Florida, where 14 dolphins are regularly subjected to "hands-on dolphins" programs for the public. Five dolphins have died there within a span of four years from 2012 to 2015.

Despite being denied import permits for the Russian belugas, Georgia Aquarium unsuccessfully appealed the agency decision. But that didn't stop the company from "restocking" belugas from other aquariums in the very same dying pools in which Maris and her two babies lost their short, sad lives.

 

5. Miami Seaquarium, Miami, Florida


Family Reunion Denied to Lonely Lolita

Lolita, originally known as Tokitae, is a 50-year-old endangered "Southern resident orca." In 1970, when she was just 4 years old, Lolita was violently taken from her family in Penn Cove, Washington State and transported to Florida's Miami Seaquarium. She was crammed into the smallest orca performance tank in North America, barely 14 feet longer than her body as an adult. She has not seen another orca since 1980, when her companion, Hugo, reportedly killed himself by repeatedly ramming his head against the tank walls. Had Lolita not been abducted, she likely would still be with her orca family in the wild, including Ocean Sun, whom orca researchers believe to be Lolita's mother. In the wild, resident orcas live in matrilineal-led pods, travel up to one hundred miles per day, and usually stay with their pod for life.

The Miami Seaquarium also houses a whopping 32 captive dolphins who are coerced into doing tricks such as giving rides and enduring serious intrusions like having "kisses" planted on their faces by streams of paying customers who grab and prod them.

Lolita would be an excellent candidate for a seaside sanctuary, and evaluation for potential rehabilitation and reintroduction to the wild, where she could recognize her pod's unique vocal dialect and have the opportunity to rejoin her mother and family. If Lolita remains at Miami Seaquarium, she will spend the rest of her life swimming in tiny circles around a concrete tank until her lonely death. It is a sad irony that cruel Miami Seaquarium rejects the call to reunite Lolita with her family, while espousing family values to the public.

 

6. Six Flags Mexico Dolphin Discovery, Mexico City, Mexico


Most Notable Abusement – Where Dolphins Are Just Another Ride

Six Flags Mexico was previously known as Reino Aventura and famous for holding Keiko, the orca used in "Free Willy." It now holds bottlenose dolphins captive in a barren tank set in the middle of a major clamorous amusement park. The dolphins are coerced to perform circus acts to crowds as loud music blares while audiences are misinformed that captive dolphins actually enjoy their artificial lives.

The dolphins are also used in swim-programs, where they are trained to perform contrived behaviors that simulate affection and sociability towards the paying public. As in other Dolphin Discovery parks, dolphins are coerced to give rides where people grab and hang onto their dorsal and pectoral fins and to give "kisses," "hugs" and "handshakes."

On the surface, swimming with captive-born dolphins may seem preferable to using dolphins captured from the wild. But captive-born dolphins face their own unique vulnerabilities. Dolphins born in captivity – especially those used in swim-programs – are often forcibly separated from their mothers at an unnaturally young age and trained to obey human commands, reinforced by and dominated through the control of their food. Research indicates that captive-born dolphins may exhibit more aggression towards human swimmers perhaps due to psychological traumatization from premature breaking of mother-calf bonds.

Six Flags Mexico is owned by Dolphin Discovery, a Mexican company that owns at least 24 dolphin captivity facilities internationally, including our #3 entry, Puerto Aventuras. In Defense of Animals examined the limited available data since 2012 and found only one death reported for all of Mexico, though there are around 400 captive dolphins in the country. This is not a realistic level of mortality and shows an appalling lack of oversight and formal recordkeeping. Six Flags Mexico Dolphin Discovery is a disturbing example of what happens when dolphins are abused for our amusement.

 

7. Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, Gulfport, Mississippi


Dolphin Prison Looking to Go Mega in Mississippi

The city of Gulfport, Mississippi is considering not one but two cetacean captivity proposals; one is for new construction which would be called the Mississippi Aquarium, and the other for an expansion of an existing facility, the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies that currently displays three bottlenose dolphins. The Institute and the man who runs it, Moby Solangi, Ph.D., have been the subject of extensive public criticism from professionals both within the captive cetacean industry, as well as those who oppose it, due to alleged accounts of inadequate care for cetaceans.

Although the facility's name implies an emphasis on scientific research and education, the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies coerces dolphins to perform mundane, unnatural tricks for the public, such as painting and posing for photo-ops. It also also offers contrived swim-with-the-dolphins programs for an extra fee. The dolphins seem to serve far more as circus-style performers than as subjects of research that could directly contribute to the conservation of cetaceans in the wild.

Solangi caused waves in 2005 when he was President of Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, which held 17 dolphins at the time. When Hurricane Katrina hit, Solangi decided to leave 8 of the dolphins at the facility to endure the full force of Hurricane Katrina, which ended up destroying the facility. Those left behind were washed away and surprisingly survived – but were later recaptured and all were sent together to a facility in the Bahamas.

The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies is also on our list because, although it is called an "Institute", it represents less of a research facility and more of a commercialized, circus-like dolphin prison with little chance of parole for the dolphins.

 

8. Mirage Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada


For Poor Odds For Casino Dolphins

Under the hot desert sun, nine bottlenose dolphins are held captive at the Mirage Hotel and Casino complex on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. Siegfried & Roy run a "Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat." Here, mortality rates for dolphins are high, and odds for the dolphins' survival can be viewed as low.

The lack of shade from the desert sun seems to be a blatant violation of Animal Welfare Act regulations that state: "Natural or artificial shelter which is appropriate for the species concerned, when local climatic conditions are taken into consideration, shall be provided for all marine mammals kept outdoors to afford them protection from the weather or from direct sunlight."

Thirteen dolphins have died at the facility over its 26-year history, including one last fall, who was "on loan" from SeaWorld. Several dolphins there have suffered from a persistent skin disease. Also, the dolphins' behaviors sometimes indicate chronic stress, including stereotypic gnawing of metal gates and lying stationary at the gates for extended periods of time.

Trainers at the Dolphin Habitat regularly host school groups where children are told that the circus-style tricks the dolphins perform are "natural behaviors." But, dolphins in nature do not paint with humans or "wave hello" on command. Not only is the educational component at this casino highly questionable, but the odds at the Mirage Hotel and Casino certainly seem to be stacked against the dolphins.

 

9. Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


For Being Beluga Breeding Mills

On the surface, the Vancouver Aquarium appears to be a straightforward nonprofit organization. But it actually operates under a number of different identities and is responsible for some of the most objectionable treatment of beluga whales in North America. The nonprofit aquarium is a prominent beluga-breeding partner with for-profit commercial theme parks. Of Vancouver Aquarium's seven beluga whales, two are currently held at Georgia Aquarium and four are at various SeaWorld locations. Vancouver Aquarium beluga Nanuq was at SeaWorld Orlando, Florida, when he fractured his jaw while "interacting" with others and died from the resulting infection, re-igniting opposition to captive cetacean breeding.

Vancouver Aquarium belugas "on loan" to SeaWorld produced nine baby belugas between 2006 and 2015. Tragically, in those nine years, reportedly only two baby belugas survived.

Vancouver Aquarium belugas "on loan" to SeaWorld can be subjected to artificial insemination, which typically occurs with workers manually collecting semen from males and artificially inducing ovulation in females with drugs. The females are eventually sedated, removed from the water and, while rendered helpless, are invasively impregnated via deep, intra-uterine artificial insemination. This industrialized breeding occurs with puppy-mill regularity, sometimes less than a year after giving birth. This highly invasive process can be especially hard on the females. Two beluga mothers, Whisper and Ruby, were reportedly forced to bear the physical and emotional impact of five infant deaths, some stillborn, within four years, one after another.

Vancouver Aquarium is scheduled to complete a $100 million expansion by 2017 with a capacity to hold eight belugas. Yet even Dr. Jane Goodall has singled out Vancouver Aquarium's breeding program as "no longer defensible by science. This is demonstrated by the high mortality rates evident in these breeding programs and by the ongoing use of these animals in interactive shows as entertainment." We couldn't agree more.

 

10. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois


For Bartering Belugas

At the latest count, Chicago's Shedd Aquarium holds seven belugas and seven Pacific white-sided dolphins. Shedd is part of a national syndicate trading whales and dolphins. Shedd regularly removes these cetaceans from their companions as if they were objects in a museum. Beluga Naluark was captured from the wild in 1992, and has been moved between eight different tanks since then – three of the moves were to and from Shedd Aquarium. Another beluga named Beethoven was transported five times to live in six different facilities including Shedd, where he is currently held.

Belugas need to maintain close social bonds that are vital to their welfare, but these needs are tragically overridden when they are shipped from one aquarium to another. The negative physical and psychological impacts of transferring belugas and other cetaceans are well documented.

Seemingly insatiable for more belugas, Shedd partnered with Georgia Aquarium in 2012 seeking a permit to import 18 more belugas captured from the wild in the Russian Far East. Fortunately, the National Marine Fisheries Service denied the permit in 2013.

Beluga whales at Shedd will never experience their own innate natural behaviors, like diving to depths of 1,000 feet or more, nor be free to choose their own social groups. They will never experience seasonal gatherings numbering in the hundreds to a thousand other belugas communicating with one another using over fifty vocalizations and echolocation sounds. Instead at Shedd, they are condemned to life obeying human commands and coerced to perform for customers in contrived "Beluga Encounters" while being prodded to produce babies who will be condemned to a lifetime of captivity.

 

DISHONORABLE MENTION:

Dolphinaris near Scottsdale, Arizona


Desert Disaster In the Making for Dolphins

A new facility is currently being constructed in Arizona's desert and is set to open in late 2016. Dolphinaris, operated by Mexico-based Ventura Entertainment, will be a swim-with-dolphin facility, charging visitors to jump in the water with bottlenose dolphins, placing animals and humans at risk of injury, illness and stress. Ventura currently owns five other dolphinaria in Mexico and this new development represents its effort to expand into the U.S. Dolphinaris is being constructed on the Salt River Reservation near Scottsdale, and will be a tenant of the nearby OdySea Aquarium, a facility that previously denied that dolphins would appear in the aquarium due to controversy about captive cetaceans and size constraints.

Dolphinaris, on the other hand, seems enthusiastic about cetacean captivity. General Manager Grey Stafford even appeared on camera to publicly reveal his ignorance of cetacean needs by equating his desert tanks with the biodiverse habitat of the Gulf of California. Stafford boasts that the facility will hold between 8 and 12 dolphins; where they will be flown and trucked in from remains a mystery. The facility may also breed dolphins for additional profits – ignoring the fact that dolphins do not belong in the desert, and that the area is in a hotspot for valley fever: a fungal infection caused by contaminated agricultural dust that could easily drift into the dolphin tank. Local opposition has been steadily building – protesters gathered in early May 2016, and a petition has garnered over 148,000 signatures and continues to grow. Let's hope it is enough to stop Dolphinaris in its tracks.

 

HONORABLE MENTION

National Aquarium, Baltimore, Maryland


Seeking Sanctuary – SeaWorld Take Note

On June 14, 2016, Baltimore's National Aquarium announced plans to move eight bottlenose dolphins from an indoor amphitheater pool to what could be the nation's first ocean-side dolphin sanctuary, by 2020. We acknowledge that building a suitable sanctuary for dolphins takes time. Yet we eagerly await the dolphins' emancipation before we formally celebrate.

The National Aquarium has been publicly critiquing dolphin captivity for around 5 years. After the deaths of two calves in 2011 – one from pneumonia, the other from internal bleeding – CEO John Racanelli began to acknowledge the harm perpetuated by the aquarium industry. In 2014 he decided to end the Aquarium's dolphin shows and enacted a breeding moratorium. Mr. Racanelli stated that "shows are antiquated," and addressed the miseducation that takes place at captive facilities, noting that "when people see dolphins in this kind of sterile setting, the messages that they take away are not, in fact, the ones that we as conservationists want them to." Racanelli further noted that replicating the world of marine mammals is nearly impossible, a reality that requires the industry to "look for alternatives" and cetacean retirement.

Currently, immediate retirement to a sanctuary is not an option for cetaceans, since no facilities of this nature currently exist. But Racanelli seems to believe it's important, acknowledging that dolphins forced to perform or otherwise be on public display are in fact working, and objects to the cruelty inherent in forcing them to "work until the day they die." "Although this decision is about a group of dolphins, it is every bit as much about our humanity; for the way a society treats the animals with whom it shares this planet speaks volumes about us," he said in the June announcement. We are cautiously optimistic that the Aquarium will put its money where its mouth is and finally emancipate the dolphins under its care to a sanctuary worth celebrating.