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At Dolphin Quest, we are animal lovers, animal welfare advocates, educators and ocean conservationists. Our interactive programs inspire tens of thousands of guests each year to care about and help protect dolphins in the wild. The vast majority of the public agree that zoos, aquariums and marine life parks like Dolphin Quest are a valuable resource for educating people about wildlife and inspiring conservation. According to a Harris interactive public opinion poll conducted in 2012 for the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, 94 percent of people polled agree that zoological parks and aquariums offer valuable information about the importance of oceans, bodies of water and the animals that live there. Additionally, 94 percent also agree that visiting these facilities can inspire conservation action that can help marine mammals and their ocean environments. There is a small vocal minority who oppose having any animals in zoos or aquaria. Some of these groups will even use false or misleading claims to persuade the public to advance their agenda. This Hot Topics resource page is designed to highlight Dolphin Quest’s position on some of these discussions and to share correct information.
To learn more, select a topic below:
Animal Care and Welfare
Our dolphins are well loved and well cared for at Dolphin Quest. We give them enriching attention and affection, and the best food, shelter and veterinary care. Dolphin Quest dolphins live rich and full lives, and they thrive in our care. They form satisfying social bonds with other dolphins and with their trainers. The majority of our dolphins were born under our care. In fact, many are 2nd or even 3rd generation dolphins, and they live as long or longer than their counterparts in the wild. Dolphin Quest facilities meet all of our dolphins’ needs and exceed both US government regulations and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums professional animal care standards. Our dolphins are very comfortable in their surroundings where they receive the finest physical care and enriching mental stimulation. Dolphin Quest is an accredited member of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums which is an international association representing marine life parks, aquariums, zoos, research facilities and professional organizations dedicated to the highest standards of care for marine mammals and to their conservation in the wild through public education, scientific study and wildlife presentations.
Many people are understandably concerned about the inhumane killing of dolphins that occurs during the Japanese drive fisheries. Dolphin Quest is an organization that advocates for marine mammals, and we inspire guests to learn about and respect these animals, protect them in the wild and conserve their ocean environments.
None of our dolphins have come from any drive fishery anywhere including the one in Japan, and Dolphin Quest does not support the Japanese drive fishery in any way. Dolphin Quest, for years, has openly condemned the annual dolphin and whale hunt in Taiji, Japan and the cruelty inflicted on the animals killed or injured in the practice. We urge others to join us in speaking out against this practice by voicing concerns to Japanese authorities. To contact the Japanese ambassador to the United States, click here to send an email. To forward comments to the Japanese Prime Minister, click here to fill out form.
Dr. Jay Sweeney, the co-founder of Dolphin Quest, is a world-renowned marine mammal veterinarian who has dedicated his life’s work to marine mammal conservation, education and scientific study. Because of his vast and important contributions to the aquarium, zoo and marine park community over the past five decades, some animal extremists have sought to discredit his work and leverage his name to spread their own misinformation and rhetoric.
On occasion, attempts have been made by extremists to connect Dr. Sweeney with the inhumane dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan, to defame his good work and inaccurately suggest that he supports this practice.
Here is the truth:
- Dr. Sweeney has never been to, seen, or directly participated in any drive fishery. In fact, he has vocally opposed this horrific practice for decades. None of the dolphins at Dolphin Quest have ever come from any drive fisheries. Additionally, 84% of our dolphins were born and lovingly raised in public display facilities.
- On one occasion, over 25 years ago, Dr. Sweeney provided veterinary support in transporting false killer whales and Risso’s dolphins already rescued from Taiji’s drive fishery. Even though Dr. Sweeney did not even see the drive fishery, this act of veterinary care has been deliberately taken out of context to associate him with the drive fishery.
- Dr. Sweeney provided collection and veterinary services for legal acquisitions of dolphins from the wild, permitted in U.S. waters under National Marine Fisheries Services, more than 25 years ago. No dolphin was ever harmed or died during collections under his care.
- Dolphin collections from the wild have not occurred in the U.S. since the eighties, in large part because Dr. Sweeney and Dolphin Quest have advanced the reproductive success and neonatal care of dolphins born in public display facilities.
- Dr. Sweeney has volunteered his veterinary expertise to wild dolphin health assessments in four locations in the U.S. for more than three decades and has published more than 85 scientific articles advancing our understanding and conservation of dolphins and whales. And Dolphin Quest has donated more than 3.5 million dollars in direct contributions and in-kind support for university level scientific studies and wild dolphin conservation initiatives.
- Dr. Sweeney and Dolphin Quest have also provided their support, free of charge, to help improve the reproductive success and welfare of dolphins in Japanese aquaria in order to lessen their use of the drive fisheries for acquisitions.
Research has shown that Hawaiian spinner dolphins hunt and feed at night offshore in large groups and return to shallow bays during the day to rest, care for their young, and recuperate. Spinner dolphins are nocturnal, unlike common bottlenose dolphins who are active and feeding during daylight hours and resting at night.
Swimming with or closely approaching wild spinner dolphins during their resting period can be an unhealthy disruption to their natural behavior and have a negative effect on their long term survival. Additionally, it is illegal to harass, pursue, torment, or annoy any wild marine mammal pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
The proposed protective regulations for Hawaiian spinner dolphins issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are in response to continued concerns of disturbance to spinner dolphins by boaters and swimmers despite the prohibitions, guidelines, outreach, and stewardship efforts of the department.
The proposed rule would prohibit swimming with and approaching a wild Hawaiian spinner dolphin within 50 yards by any means (vessel, person, or other object) and would be implemented within two nautical miles from shore of the Main Hawaiian Islands and in designated waters between Maui, Lanai, and Kahoolawe where spinner dolphins are found throughout the day.
Although Dolphin Quest does not offer wild dolphin tours or wild dolphin swim activities, we have always supported and encouraged responsible watchable wildlife methods that are safe for the animals and humans and that follow all related government regulations. As dolphin specialists, we support the proposed rule based on the best, most current science (Referenced in this NOAA PDF document) and what is clearly in the best interest of the wild cetaceans.
Dolphin Quest along with the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums strongly disagrees with the biased presentation and false allegations made in the docudrama Blackfish: The Movie. Blackfish is a one-sided propaganda film that uses false and misleading information to manipulate viewers emotionally and create “facts” that support an agenda by animal rights extremists who wish to shut down all aquariums and marine life parks. It is important for viewers to check the facts for themselves and do their own research. Like Dolphin Quest, the people who work for SeaWorld are passionate animal advocates. They love and take great care of their animals while educating and inspiring the public to protect them in the wild. SeaWorld rescues thousands of stranded animals each year, and they contribute millions of dollars to critical scientific research that benefits our oceans and the dolphins, whales and other animals that call it home. SeaWorld has put together an excellent resource on their Web site called “The Truth About Blackfish” which responds to the inaccuracies and false claims presented in the film.
On March 17, 2016, SeaWorld made a public announcement that included the following three major points:
- SeaWorld is ending its killer whale breeding program. The killer whales, or orcas, currently in their professional care will be the last generation of orcas at SeaWorld.
- SeaWorld will discontinue its killer whale shows. SeaWorld will continue its plans to introduce new, inspiring, natural killer whale encounters, rather than theatrical shows, in larger, enriching naturalistic environments.
- SeaWorld will collaborate with its long time adversary, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Ending Orca Breeding Program
We still love SeaWorld and all the good work that they do. We have tremendous respect for SeaWorld’s animal care staff and educators. We do not support this business decision. It is not based in science, limits future research efforts to protect marine mammals in the wild and, in our opinion, is not in the orca’s best interest.
We know that this was a very difficult decision for SeaWorld. We also recognize SeaWorld’s increased public and financial pressures resulting from the false claims contained in the film, Blackfish. Since the 2013 release of the film in theaters and subsequent airing on CNN, SeaWorld has been relentlessly harassed in the unjust court of public opinion.
SeaWorld decided that the orca breeding issue was a block to it’s business, making it more difficult to connect with people. This idea was introduced by animal extremist organizations that seek to remove all animals from zoos and aquariums and ultimately break the animal-human bond. In October 2015, SeaWorld’s “Blue World Project” orca habitat expansion permit was denied by the California Coastal Commission unless SeaWorld stopped orca breeding in its parks. This shocking last minute stipulation was heavily influenced by HSUS’s campaign against the expansion.
We respect SeaWorld’s right to make the business decision to end its orca breeding. However, Dolphin Quest believes that reproducing and rearing their young is an important part of a populations natural social behavior. Maintaining an effective animal reproductive program is also vital for marine parks, zoos and aquariums to continue to educate the public, increase our collective scientific knowledge of animals and support conservation efforts without the need to collect animals born in the wild.
It is important for future generations of children, families and adults to have the powerful opportunity to see and be inspired by marine animals. Experiencing animals in zoos, aquariums and interactive parks is critically important for the conservation of the species, especially as humans are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature and pose the biggest threats to animals in the wild.
Natural, Non-Theatrical, Educational Encounters
Dolphin Quest applauds SeaWorld’s decision to enhance its orca habitats by making them larger, more naturalistic and more enriching for the animals. The focus on non-theatrical orca experiences that are more educational and conservation-based, is wonderful. In fact, this type of enriching, large habitat and education-focused concept reflects the natural dolphin habitats and interactive programs that Dolphin Quest pioneered decades ago. Our guests from around the world tell us all the time how much they learn about dolphins at Dolphin Quest and how the experience inspires them to care about and protect dolphins in the wild. This new direction for SeaWorld will, no doubt, be enriching for the animals and the visitors.
Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
HSUS has long been a very vocal adversary of SeaWorld and the zoo and aquarium community. Even though HSUS has some conservation messages regarding commercial whaling, seal hunting, and shark finning, it is still primarily an animal rights organization focused on separating the animal-human bond and ending the public display of animals in zoos and aquariums. Additionally, much of HSUS’s funding supports lobbying, marketing and PR efforts with only 1% going to actual animal shelters. Instead of supporting HSUS, we suggest supporting your local animal shelters or non profit organizations whose primary mission is conservation like the World Wildlife Fund and accredited zoos and aquariums that contribute both financial and in-kind support to wildlife conservation, education, research and rescue.
What can we learn from this situation?
The pressures put on SeaWorld by HSUS and other animal extremist organizations are likely to intensify and become even more focused on your local zoos, aquariums and marine parks. It is now more important than ever for those of us who love animals and support the critical conservation, education and research work of the zoological community to get active and involved. We need to ensure that this vocal minority does not take away our right to connect with and be inspired by animals. The survival of these species depend on our help.
For more information, visit SeaWorld Cares.
Animal welfare advocate organizations promote the humane treatment of animals and celebrate the human animal bond. Examples of these organizations include your local animal shelters and the American Humane Association (AHA). AHA was formed in 1877, and its focus is protecting children, pets, therapy dogs and farm animals from abuse.
Animal rights extremist organizations spread misperceptions to support their radical agenda. Their goal is to separate people from animals and deny us all the right to experience marine mammals up close, in ways that educate, inspire conservation and advance science.
Do your own research. It is important to investigate non-profit programs before making donations. Charity Navigator is a national organization that evaluates non-profit organizations and provides ratings based on factors including charity programs, spending practices and sources of revenue.