Should the National Aquarium Get Rid of its Dolphins?

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Photo by Flickr user John Williams
Photo by Flickr user John Williams

As anyone who’s watched Free Willy knows, cetaceans (that is, whales and dolphins) have a hard time in captivity. With that in mind, Baltimore’s National Aquarium is considering a drastic step: Removing all the bottlenose dolphins currently living at the aquarium, and relocating them to a sanctuary instead.

As National Geographic reports, this is just one more sign that the National Aquarium is moving away from being a tourist attraction, and toward being a conservation organization.

“The era of modern aquariums began here in 1981, and a lot has changed,” said aquarium CEO John Racanelli, according to the Baltimore Sun. (Read our recent Big Fish [pardon the pun] interview with Racanelli here.) “We know so much more today about the animals and about our evolving audience — and frankly how urgent the need has become to protect the health of oceans and the Chesapeake Bay. As a conservation organization first and foremost, we have to evolve.”

While the dolphins’ move to an oceanside sanctuary is still in the planning stages, some changes have already been made. The aquarium stopped hosting its popular 20-minute dolphin show a while back; instead, they’re opening the dolphin amphitheater to all visitors (and raising overall ticket prices accordingly). That’s in part because some experts say that dolphins who perform have shorter lifespans and exhibit evidence of boredom and depression.

But an aquarium without dolphins raises all sorts of interesting questions. Would visitors feel cheated? What about other species kept in tanks– are sharks bothered by captivity? How about octopi? Personally, I think it’s great that the National Aquarium isn’t shying away from these questions–I’m excited to see what they do next.



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