What to Expect From North America’s First Dolphin Sanctuary
As more people come around to the idea that cetaceans are animals that deserve freedom and not to be stuffed into tanks for entertainment purposes, a real shift is occurring.
Soon, North America will see its first-ever dolphin sanctuary built — designed to rehabilitate aquarium dolphins in their natural habitat.
According to the Associated Press, the National Aquarium has begun a three-year program designed to get its seven dolphins ready for release into this sanctuary. Fortunately, they just received a major boost from tour company Virgin Holidays, which pledged $300,000 to make this sanctuary a reality.
The AP reported that the years-in-the-making project is in the early stages of shopping potential locations in Florida and, in the meantime, is painstakingly readying the dolphins for the habitat transition.
For example, the aquarium is raising the temperatures of the dolphins’ tanks so that algae will grow and start to emulate the real waters to which they’ll be relocated.
This donation by Virgin Holidays fits right in line with the company’s stance.
Virgin Group, founded by philanthropist Richard Branson, has long been interested in cetacean issues.
TV3, which is owned by Virgin Media, reported that in 2014 the company pledged to stop working with agencies that took captive cetaceans from the wild. In 2017, they ceased to work with hotels and entertainment attractions that housed captive dolphins and whales.
They also teamed up with the World Cetacean Alliance to forge new whale-watching rules that better respect the animals in their natural habitat.
In pledging money to help create a marine sanctuary for these dolphins, Virgin Holidays is propelling the company’s pro-cetacean policies forward to effect change.
The Independent reported that Virgin Holidays’ managing director, Joe Thompson, is hoping to re-shape how people interact with these wild ocean animals. He said the company aims to steer its clientele away from using animals in “theatrical shows” and places an emphasis on tourism that promotes animal welfare.
So helping build a sanctuary would allow tourists to view dolphins as they rehabilitate, rather than perform. Virgin Holidays hopes to have guests witness these animals beginning in 2020, according to the Independent.
But while tourism factors into Virgin Holidays’ hopes for the sanctuary, John Racanelli, CEO and president of the National Aquarium, told the Independent that the aquarium is thinking only about the dolphins at this point. “It’s the driving force behind the why, how and what’s next for this project,” he said.
“Put simply, we place the welfare of the dolphins above all else — science, the public, donors, whatever.”
Plans for the sanctuary are still in development, but TV3 reported that the $10 million to $15 million project is aiming for a site that is 100 times the size of the dolphins’ current tank — putting it at a cool 100 million gallons of water that will allow the dolphins to dive and swim freely.
Per the Independent, the sanctuary will also feature tides, temperature changes and other fish and plants that are native to the dolphins’ natural environment.
It’s a massive undertaking, and it’s not the only one in the works. According to Mother Nature Network, in 2016, a nonprofit called the Whale Sanctuary Project pledged to create a cold-water sanctuary for orcas and beluga whales to be retired to.
As of early 2018, that three- to five-year plan was still in the works.
These sanctuaries would be the first of their kind in North America and would drastically change the options for entertainment facilities’ captive cetaceans.
The tides have long been changing on how humans view sea animals in captivity, so it’s great that the industry is catching up with the times. Hopefully this all goes according to plan, and all seven dolphins can begin to get their lives back in just two short years with the hope of many more joining them in the future.
It’s the very least these magnificent animals deserve.