Big change is coming to the National Aquarium's 25-year old dolphin exhibit. Last month, Aquarium CEO and marine conservationist John Racanelli announced that the institution will move its small population of dolphins to a marine sanctuary somewhere in the Florida/Caribbean area by the year 2020. The decision comes five years after the Aquarium ended its traditional dolphin shows, and follows protests at the Inner Harbor facility by activists calling for more humane treatment of dolphins. The proposed sanctuary has been applauded by many animal welfare groups. Dr. Heather Rally, a wildlife veterinarian with the research and conservation arm of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), calls the transfer of the dolphins to a non-breeding marine sanctuary "a monumental move."
The welfare of captive marine animals such as dolphins and killer whales has come into sharper focus during the past few decades through movies such as "Free Willy," and documentaries such as "Blackfish," which examined the conditions at Florida's Sea World after a trainer was killed by one of its captive orcas. Such films have sparked public concerns about whether it's possible for animals in captive environments to thrive.
John Racanelli (who also hosts the Aquarium-produced program A Blue View here on WYPR) joins co-host Nathan Sterner to explain why the National Aquarium decided to relocate its dolphins to a marine sanctuary, what that sanctuary will look like, and how the decision signals a more enlightened approach to nature education and animal conservation.