National Aquarium Planning First North American Seawater Dolphin Habitat
The National Aquarium in Baltimore recently announced its intention to build the first oceanside dolphin habitat in North America. According to the aquarium, the habitat will be located outdoors, most likely in Florida or the Caribbean, and allow the animals to live in natural seawater.
The Aquarium’s CEO John Racanelli explained the rational behind the project in a Baltimore Sun op-ed, saying that:
“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.”
The dolphins have been a source of controversy for several years as animal rights activists often protested their captivity. According to the New York Times, these complaints led the aquarium to stop featuring the dolphins in its shows, though guests were still able to view them in captivity.
In the same op-ed, Racanelli touches on the debate and why it took so long to reach a decision.
“We didn’t make this decision because it was the cheapest or easiest option — it was neither — and it wasn’t a decision we could have made quickly or without thoughtful consideration,” said Racanelli. He also conceded that films such as Black Fish and Free Willy and more knowledge about the animals has changed how many view the idea of keeping them on display.
Racanelli also claimed that the aquarium itself has changed with the times, saying “We, too, have evolved — from an entertaining sea life attraction to a nonprofit aquatic conservation organization.”
The finished habitat is planned to contain a vegetated shoreline, numerous pools, and some way for visitors to interact with the creatures. The organization plans to move their colony of eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins by 2020.