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APHIS: Amend the Animal Welfare Act for Marine Mammals Now!

This petition had 2,741 supporters

WE, the undersigned, are aware that as per findings by the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) dated May, 2016, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is proposing to amend its regulations implementing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), as they pertain to the care and treatment of marine mammals at licensed facilities in the United States; and,

WHEREAS the regulations governing humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of marine mammals used for exhibition or research purposes have not been significantly updated since 1979; and,

WHEREAS notwithstanding minor modifications by APHIS in 1984, the most contentious issues, including specific space requirements for certain marine mammals; variances and implementation dates; indoor and outdoor facilities; shade conditions and water quality, were not included in those revisions; and,

WHEREAS in 1991, the MMC sent a detailed discussion paper to the Administrator of APHIS that identified key issues that needed to be addressed. These specifically pertained to physical and psychological space requirements that incorporated marine mammal size, physiology and behavior, which are among the most important provisions for improving health and welfare in captive marine mammals; and,

WHEREAS the MMC recommended a joint professional and scholarly peer review of relevant marine mammal standards, as part of a consultative process that would include independent experts and researchers; however, after 25 years, APHIS still has not responded; and,

WHEREAS APHIS has proposed that its current space requirements should alternately be based upon data that were provided by the captivity industry, i.e., the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, as of 2002; and,

WHEREAS the MHD (minimum horizontal dimension) and depth requirements for the various species have not been re-evaluated in more than 30 years, thus rendering said data outdated and obsolete; and,

WHEREAS APHIS suspended enforcement pertaining to interactive programs (e.g., swim-with-dolphins) in 1999, and subsequently disregarded available data documenting marine mammal aggression towards human participants, in both more traditional interactive programs and in feeding and petting pool interactions. Moreover, APHIS has proposed that such interactive programs be increased, based solely upon industry recommendations; and,

WHEREAS APHIS has proposed that all individual animal veterinary, feeding, and behavioral records and statistical summaries be decreased to a retention requirement of one year only; therefore,

WE, the undersigned, petition APHIS to respectfully consider and address the MMC's findings and implement its recommendations without further delay; and,

THAT we concur with the MMC that on a "common-sense" basis, a pool that does not allow a cetacean to swim more than one body length before running into a wall, or to assume a full body length vertical posture in water "must be considered inadequate"; and,

THAT APHIS must "clarify" to the public that "all minimum space requirements for all species/groups under section 3.104 of the regulations are to be calculated and based on unobstructed horizontal distances", in addition to depth dimensions (MHD); and,

THAT shade, temperature, and other proposed requirements be specified, with particular emphasis on what is deemed "sufficient" to protect animals from direct sunlight and all environmental conditions; and,

THAT APHIS must ensure that the safety of the public re all interactive programs is a primary concern, and that comprehensive regulations be implemented and enforced to ensure same; and,

THAT we fully support the MMC's recommendations that APHIS "seek advice from NMFS, FWS, and appropriate experts in marine mammal medicine, husbandry, physiology, and behavior" to develop proposed changes to the existing marine mammal space requirements, and to all other proposed changes and recommendations; and,

THAT all data and records be retained by regulated facilities for a period of at least three years; and,

THAT in assessing the implementation of the MMC's recommendations and various options, we maintain that the Animal Welfare Act provisions re compliance must be upheld, and not be subjugated to impact and cost considerations. We concur with the view that animal welfare provisions must supersede all other in the AWA, and that a maximum two-year period be granted for regulated facilities to come into compliance; and,

THAT the above recommendations be accorded the highest priority by APHIS, without further delay, and that the public, as well as the MMC, be apprised of all developments in a timely manner.

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