In 2016 the National Aquarium in Baltimore made a decision to retire its 7 dolphins and move them to a yet-to-be-built seaside sanctuary in Florida or the Caribbean. The decision was made after a change in public sentiment regarding captive whales and dolphins occurred in part due to the 2013 documentary film Blackfish. However, fast-forward 3 years and the aquarium has still not been able to find a suitable sanctuary location for the dolphins. As the Baltimore Sun reported, “aquarium officials have reviewed — and vetoed — more than 50 potential locations for the new sanctuary from consideration in part because of unclean water caused by human development or the threat posed by climate change-related events such as sea-level rise, rapid seaweed blooms in warming waters and extreme storms.”
Moving the dolphins to a more humane environment has been a serious effort and aquarium staff have taken steps like wearing flip-flops and sunglasses around the animals in an effort to acclimate them to sights they might see in Florida or the Caribbean. National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli has moved the target date of relocating the pod to 2021 but even that could get change depending on the state of U.S. coastlines. The Baltimore Sun also explained that:
- In the Florida Keys, some sites were eliminated from consideration because nearby housing developments emptied septic systems into the waterways and saltwater ponds.
- Other sites were too prone to severe blooms of sargassum seaweed, which are becoming increasingly problematic as the ocean warms.
- Sites in the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico may be assessed next for a possible location.
Captive dolphins have a weaker immune system than their wild counterparts and warming waters make them even more susceptible to pathogens.
Why This Matters: This sanctuary is an effort to allow the National Aquarium’s dolphins to experience nature above the water line instead of people peering down at them for the first time in their lives. Unfortunately, human activity is complicating that process as well. People are taken with dolphins for obvious reasons: they’re highly intelligent, playful, and seem to share our same joy of life. But it’s up to us to ensure their survival which means taking a stand to protect the world’s oceans and prevent them from becoming a dumping ground for our waste. Our oceans take up 70% of the surface area of our planet, so no #EarthDay is complete without acknowledging the work we have to do to ensure their health.