The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland announced last week that they will move their eight Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins to an oceanside sanctuary by the end of 2020.
To clarify, this is not a release into the wild for the dolphins. As only one of the eight dolphins was born in the wild and has ever even swam in the ocean (six were born in the aquarium; one, named Jade, was transferred from SeaWorld Orlando), the ocean sanctuary will be still be separated from the open ocean. Yet with this change, the dolphins will live in a much larger space with natural stimuli such as fish and aquatic plants, though there will be barriers to prevent breeding among the dolphins and mingling with wild dolphins. The aquarium is currently scouting locations in the Carribean and Florida Keys with a tropical climate for the sanctuary, and plan on having full-time staff dedicated to providing lifetime care for the dolphins.
Nearly 556 cetaceans live in captivity in the United States, including nearly 400 bottlenose dolphins, according to
The Humane Society. The National Aquarium hopes that its plan will pave the way for a change in the marine mammal industry. "There's no model anywhere, that we're aware of, for this," aquarium CEO John Racanelli told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of last Tuesday's announcement. "We're pioneering here, and we know it's neither the easiest nor the cheapest option."
Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute, believes that other facilities will follow the National Aquarium’s lead. “It’s definitely moving the needle,” she says. “I do think it has serious implications for where the entire industry is going.”
Yet SeaWorld has steadfastly rejected the call to release its cetaceans into similar ocean sanctuaries, despite its decision to phase out orca breeding and shows earlier this year. The National Aquarium stopped their live animal shows in 2012 due to growing public distaste for the shows.
“We now know more about dolphins and their care, and we believe that the National Aquarium is uniquely positioned to use that knowledge to implement positive change,” said Racanelli. “This is the right time to move forward with the dolphin sanctuary.”
Sources: National Geographic
, USA Today
, ABC News