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Green Thumbs Up: Dolphins at National Aquarium to go to sanctuary

By Karen Graham     Jun 15, 2016 in Environment
Baltimore's National Aquarium announced it is sending its eight dolphins to "the nation's first seaside sanctuary" by the end of 2020.
Public opinion and protests from animal rights activists have played a major role in the aquarium's decision to move the dolphins from their present site to a seaside sanctuary, to be created in either Florida or the Caribbean.
The National Aquarium announced its intentions on Facebook and on its Twitter page.
The National Aquarium opened in 1981 at its location on Pratt Street in the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore, Maryland. The Marine Mammal Pavilion, which houses the eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins was added in 1991. Of the eight, six were born at the aquarium, one was born at another American aquarium, and one was collected by another aquarium sometime in the 1970s or 1980s in U.S. waters.
Aquarium officials are exploring sites in Florida and the Caribbean for a suitable sanctuary that will be a first-of-its-kind protected sanctuary where the marine mammals would still be protected and cared for by humans, says the Baltimore Sun.
The Marine Mammal Pavilion at the National Aquarium.
The Marine Mammal Pavilion at the National Aquarium.
Fritz Geller
"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," John Racanelli, the aquarium's CEO, said in the announcement.
Dolphin shows actually ended four years ago at the aquarium, which draws over 1.3 million visitors annually. The aquarium stopped with the stunt-filled animal shows and instead, allowed visitors to see the dolphins in the pool interacting with their trainers.
At that time, visitors were surprised to hear there were tentative plans to move the dolphins to a sanctuary because many people had grown up seeing the dolphins. It was about this time that the aquarium jumped into the debate over keeping these marine mammals in captivity.
Through the transition from doing animal shows to just keeping the dolphins as another aquarium animal for people to observe, aquarium officials and staff soon realized that emerging science and the fact that the aquarium's mission would have to play a role in the decision to let the mammals go to a sanctuary.
Racanelli pointed out that the institution had evolved over the years from a sea life attraction to an aquatic conservation group. He says that although the dolphins have been kept in the aquarium for the past 25 years, "emerging science and consultation with experts have convinced us that dolphins do indeed thrive when they can form social groups, have opportunities to express natural behaviors, and live in a habitat as similar as possible to that for which nature so superbly designed them."
In an Op/Ed in the Baltimore Sun, Racanelli says that "There's no model anywhere, that we're aware of, for this." He points out that the dolphins will need to learn how to deal with pollution and jellyfish because most of them have been born in captivity. "We're pioneering here, and we know it's neither the easiest nor the cheapest option."
Racanelli ends his piece by saying, "I am both honored and humbled that our aquarium, a Baltimore institution, is leading the way. 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."
Green Thumbs Up is a recurring feature that focuses on the environment and how we can lead more sustainable and eco-friendly lives. In a previous Green Thumbs Up, We featured Interstate 35, stretching from northern Minnesota to southern Texas, and soon to become the nation's "Monarch Highway."
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