Ocean World 1992
Popular dolphin shows change under pressure from activists, By MICHAEL WARREN The Associated Press ORLANDO, Fla. — The applause is like thunder at Sea World, where dolphins put on a spectacular show. Rushing through the water and leaping through the air, they humble the 10 million slow- swimming humans who come each year to marvel at the marine marine mammals' beauty and brain power and only guess at their life under the sea. But behind the scenes at Sea World and more than 40 other U.S. marine parks and aquariums, aquariums, dolphins pay dearly for our pleasure. Some drown in nets, overdose on chlorine, or are rammed to death by hostile tankmates. Others have been sliced by glass and poisoned by pennies. Most of these highly intelligent creatures creatures die from diseases and ulcers induced by stress in the concrete tanks, according to federal federal records. The dead — more than 650 since the government began keeping count in 1973 — survived survived fewer than five years in captivity on average, federal mortality reports show. Now, after decades of immense popularity and uneven regulation, marine parks face criticism both from scientists who study wild cetaceans — dolphins, whales and porpoises — and from animal rights activists activists who hope to make attending dolphin shows as socially incorrect incorrect as wearing a fur coat. Aquarium officials argue, however, that dolphin-loving activists are selfish in denying others the chance to enjoy the creatures up close. "I would hate to rule that out for the future, for everybody else," said Nancy Hotchkiss of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums Aquariums in Wheeling, W.Va. Yet indications are the critics are being heard. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Agriculture is cracking down on parks that violate dolphin protection protection laws. Substandard dolphin dolphin shows are closing. Plans for new dolphin and whale exhibits exhibits are being dropped. No Atlantic bottlenose dolphins have been caught in the wild since '1989, largely because of public objections. "We're taking our role more seriously," said Ann Terbush, permitting chief of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington. "We're getting more reports ... more infractions are coming to our attention." Some reports come from "spies." In June, two women videotaped videotaped a 27-year-old dolphin called Pepper bobbing alive but listless at Ocean World, its back covered with zinc oxide against the sun. Employees at the Fort Lauderdale attraction told the women the animal had pulled a muscle. After three weeks of phone calls and formal complaints, complaints, the park disclosed that the 500-pound male suffered a crushed spine and lost half its tail when workers dropped it into a pool. The ensuing publicity occurred when Ocean World already faced one of the stiffest punishments since enactment of the 20-year-old dolphin protection protection law: a two-week closure for repeated animal care violations. But no further penalty was imposed in the Pepper incident because federal officials deemed that accidental. "We're going inside the parks and sending the right complaints to the right people. That's what gets things done," said Fort Lauderdale-based Dolphin Freedom Foundation director Russ Rector, who gave the video to federal inspectors. Lawmakers are getting the message too. South Carolina in June became the first state to ban dolphin dolphin and whale displays. Efforts are under way to enact similar bans in Florida and Texas. U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, D-Fla., has offered a bill to require lifetime tracking of captive captive dolphins, a review of federal federal enforcement and a ban on dolphin dolphin exports. Activists in the meantime are also lobbying those who invest in proposed public aquariums, a tourist attraction sought since the 1980s by dozens of U.S. cities after the huge success of live dolphin and whale exhibits in Boston and Baltimore. Investors abandoned plans for an Ocean Expo park in South Carolina after opponents publicized publicized federal reports of deaths among dolphins kept by the would-be collector. "The key to it is getting investors investors educated," said Ric O'Barry, a former dolphin trainer trainer who brings videos of protests to boardrooms. "Once they see they're going to have controversy controversy and opposition if they have dolphins, they back off." Aquariums in New Orleans, Newport, R.I.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Camden, N.J., and Eugene, Ore., recently opened without dolphins. Officials in Tampa; Charleston, S.C.; Duluth, Minn.; Atlanta, and San Francisco also promise no dolphin dolphin exhibits. Theme parks in California, Texas, Tennessee and Iowa closed their dolphin shows after repeated protests. Opposition to keeping dolphins dolphins captive for show isn'uthe only factor limiting there use, however. Some aquarium planners planners say the audience for cetaceans cetaceans is simply saturated. At the same time, meeting federal standards standards has become too costly, they say. Bucking the apparent trend is Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, which recently added Beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins in an $80 million expansion. At the same time, greater public understanding and knowledge knowledge about dolphins is having an impact in other ways. The worst marine parks have closed; the better ones emphasize emphasize education and keeping the animals in more natural environments, environments, said Jeffrey Brown, a federal fisheries investigator in St. Petersburg. "The days of putting on silly hats and jumping through fiery hoops, the more circus kinds of things, are falling by the wayside wayside very quickly," Brown said. "The trick is for these facilities to slide in as much education as they can while still staying in business." Sea World spokesman Brad Andrews put it another way: "Everything is changing because the public wants to feel good."