In Dolphinaris Arizona, three dolphins have died in the past 16 months at a dolphinarium that opened in 2016.
As you can imagine, the deaths have sparked concern in the community over the remaining five dolphins in the facility.
In September of 2017, Bodie was the first dolphin to pass away, followed by Alia in May of 2018.
Now, Khloe, a dolphin who is regularly used for the facility’s swim-with-the-dolphins experiences and who is also featured in promotional material, died in the latter half of December, 2018.
Allegedly, all three dolphins died of infections but the details about their passing has been minimal.
The Dolphinaris Arizona website describes itself as “one of the world’s leading providers of dolphin experiences” that “exceeds federal and international standards of animal care and habitat.”
But dolphin experts have a different opinion.
Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), believes the dolphins’ health is being seriously affected by the facility’s location in the desert.
“Dolphins don’t belong in the desert, and I have serious concerns about the possibility of them being exposed to fungal agents that are common in this desert area,” Rose shared with The Dodo. “The necropsy reports for these animals most definitely should be released publicly, but they won’t be (they are not required to be by law). Unless Dolphinaris has something to hide, they should be transparent about this situation, given the publicly expressed concerns about exposure to desert-associated fungal agents.”
The hot Arizonian sun.
“The relentless exposure to UV radiation is not normal for them,” Rose said. “Desert sun is particularly harsh. These tanks have no shade and they are very shallow, meaning the water itself does not filter out much of the UV radiation, even when the dolphins are below the surface.”
“It is not normal or natural for dolphins to be exposed to UV radiation in this way,” Rose added. “Where they are found in tropical climes, or even off the coast of desert areas, they can … spend more than 70 percent of their time at depths where the worst of sunlight is filtered out.”
But Rose shared how the dolphins at Dolphinaris Arizona only have 10 feet of water to swim in — which does not allow them to escape the sun.
And that’s not the only stressful living condition the dolphins have to face.
Laurice Dee, the admin for the Advocate Against Dolphin Captivity in Arizona Facebook page, shared how the dolphins have four concrete pools – three outdoor and one indoor.
But each pool is very small so the dolphins do not have a lot of space to either dive or swim around, which could create boredom and frustration.
“When the dolphins were not performing, they’d swim in endless circles in their pools,” Dee told The Dodo.
Dolphins additionally are very social creatures. In the wild, they reside in family pods and they each rely on the other for both survival and companionship.
But when the dolphins are not performing at Dolphinaris Arizona, they are gated off from each other — which prevents them from interacting.
“Every time the trainers opened the gates, the dolphins would storm out from one pool to the next and swim around fast,” Dee said. “Dolphinaris Arizona added bridges over the gates in early 2017 after one of the dolphins was seen jumping from one pool to the next — the bridges are there to keep the dolphins in the pools.”
And then there is the subject of sanitation as anyone who visits Dolphinaris Arizona can pay to swim with the dolphins or even act as their “trainer” – but these human-dolphin interactions could potentially spread illness.
“Three dolphins dying in less than three years is not normal, even for a swim-with-dolphin attraction,” Rose said. “I do think the sanitary standards for these programs aren’t rigorous enough. People with any illness — even a sniffle — shouldn’t be allowed to participate, but most places don’t have this kind of exacting standard. I don’t know if Dolphinaris does specifically, but it’s unlikely they do.”
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