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Dolphins don't belong in the desert says advocacy group Special

By Elizabeth Batt     Jul 24, 2014 in Environment
Las Vegas - It's been described by advocates as the dolphin death pool. Tucked away inside The Mirage Hotel and Casino Resort in Las Vegas, are ten bottlenose dolphins. All of them are suffering from the desert heat says the Mojave Dolphin campaign.
The Mirage hotel has long been at the center of controversy over the keeping of dolphins at its resort. According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), the Nevada casino has one of the worst records on paper when it comes to dolphin welfare.
In a 2008 report called 'Dying to Entertain You', WSPA wrote that The Mirage had lost 12 of 18 dolphins since it first opened its marine mammal exhibit in 1990 — a 70% mortality rate. Today, advocates believe, that conditions at the resort have not improved much.
The Mirage currently houses 10 dolphins: Duchess, Lightning, HufNPuf, Maverick, Beetle, Osborne, Bella, K2, Miramar, and Sophie. Sophie was sent to the resort from SeaWorld, California in March 2014.
Shelly Rae, the Campaign Director for 'Free the Mojave Dolphins' has been reporting on the dolphins' welfare since January 2013. Their conditions bothered Rae so much, that in May 2013, she moved to Vegas to continue her observations. She's been holding protests at the facility since July of last year.
One dolphin in particular named Maverick, is of great concern to the activist. The male bottlenose who was born at the facility, is one of three dolphins suffering with a contagious virus called dolphin poxvirus.
"Maverick is still covered in pox," Rae told Digital Journal.
Dolphin poxvirus causes circular tattoo lesions on the body of the animal. Many publications such as this one published by the National Center for Biotechnology, cite, "stress, environmental conditions and general health," as playing, "a major role in the clinical manifestation of dolphin pox."
The CRC Handbook of Marine Mammal Medicine reiterates this sentiment, citing studies describing the lesions as the product of poor environmental conditions:
Poor water quality, drastic drops in water temperature and the development of gastric ulcers have all coincided with the onset of poxvirus lesions.
Maverick says Rae, has suffered with the condition for years. "I have seen photos of him from over two years ago with the condition. It has only gotten worse." Ironically, Rae added, the dolphin is now defined by his lesions. "The trainers use the condition as a way to tell the public who he is, or how to tell which dolphin he is," she said.
One month ago, Martyn Stewart of Nature Sound, visited The Mirage to examine the conditions of the dolphin exhibit for himself. Stewart, whose recordings have been included in over 150 feature films across radio and television, reported that on the day of his visit, temperatures reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit and the dolphins were afforded no shade. [See featured video above].
It is an issue that Rae has taken directly to the US Department of Agriculture's, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or APHIS, the agency responsible for protecting animal health and welfare through the application of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
"We have filed complaints with USDA/APHIS," Rae told me. The complaints expressed concern over water conditions, the poxvirus, the lack of quarantine for infected animals, and the absence of shade. Section 3.103 of the Animal Welfare Act requires that facilities provide natural or artificial shelter for all marine mammals kept outdoors.
"They did not cite The Mirage on any of them," Rae said, "but did say that 3.103(B) is under review."
Digital Journal contacted APHIS yesterday with Rae's concerns. I was particularly interested in water quality conditions and whether the waters had been tested. The Mirage it appears, has never provided shade for its dolphins, so I hoped to determine whether the facility had been cited for not doing so in the past. I also queried all non-compliance issues by The Mirage and what measures — if any, had been taken by APHIS under the guidelines of the AWA. They have not yet responded to the inquiries.
For Rae, the welfare of the dolphins remains her primary concern, and she'll get more support in October when the Campaign Director for the Dolphin Project — Ric O'Barry, joins her for a showing of the Academy award-winning documentary, 'The Cove'.
The advocate noted that attempts to work with people in California over the release of the dolphins to a sea pen are also in the works, and the campaign hopes to work with lawmakers in Nevada on laws to stop the import and breeding of the dolphins in the state of Nevada. For now, Rae plans to keep up the pressure. "We will continue our protests and try different avenues," she said.
For further information on Rae's campaign, visit the Free the Mojave Dolphins page on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter @VegasDolphins.
More about Free the Mojave Dolphins, Las vegas, the mirage, dolphin shows, ric o'barry
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