By Ashley Boreckyi
Thanks to the work of global NGO’s, and the popularity of films such as The Cove and Blackfish, the public’s consciousness when it comes to animals has been awakened. Many people now view whales and dolphins as intelligent, sentient creatures who don’t belong in swimming pools performing circus tricks.
Attractions involving captive marine life, in particular, those in which the animals are used to perform, are experiencing a steady decline in popularity. A recent poll conducted by Censuswide on behalf of responsibletravel.com and the Born Free Foundation, found that a staggering 86% of respondents would no longer wish to visit a marine park to see whales and dolphins.
The public is speaking, and business and government officials are starting to listen. There are now no longer any captive dolphins in the UK, Barcelona is closing its only dolphinarium, France has committed to ending the breeding, exchange and export programs of captive dolphins and whales.
Now, in what is believed to be a world first, Baltimore’s National Aquarium is ending the captivity of their dolphins and rehoming them in a purpose-built oceanside sanctuary, which will become the nation’s first dolphin reservation. The move is the result of a five year debate among aquarium officials. In the face of significant gains in knowledge of marine welfare, as well as mounting public protest against marine parks, the officials deemed it the best and only ethical option for the ongoing care for their dolphins.
The Aquarium’s CEO John Racanelli is positive about the change, stating “Up until now, the alternatives did not include having an oceanside sea water facility that dolphins could go to and not be engaged in something like a swim program or some other kind of revenue producing model…we’ve set the criteria that the needs and interests of the dolphins will come first, and that hasn’t really been tried yet.”
Locations for the site are currently being evaluated to ensure the most suitable environment of climate, resources and natural stimuli. The project, which will also include an education and research centre as well as an onsite veterinary clinic, is slated to be completed by 2020.
The decision is also being celebrated by animal welfare activists. President of the Whale Sanctuary Project Lori Marino has said, “We’re thrilled and we think that this is really a breakthrough decision…This is going to improve the animal’s welfare enormously…”
It is indeed a solid gain for marine welfare and is setting an encouraging precedent other marine parks will hopefully follow. If successful, the project has the potential to become a standard model for the redevelopment of all marine parks, effectively ending the practice of keeping marine mammals in captive environments and significantly redefining ethical standards of animal welfare.
It is a move that is long overdue but extremely welcome.