Dolphins are commercially exploited in marine parks worldwide and swim with the dolphin attractions. We at Orca Conservancy are strongly opposed to cetaceans in captivity and swim-with-the-dolphin (SWTD) attractions, yet we do believe that while they are in captivity, they should receive the most humane care possible.
Thousands of people participate in SWTD programs each year yet have absolutely no idea there is currently no government enforcement of the regulations for these interactive programs. In 1995, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) proposed amendments to the Animal Welfare Act to establish standards for all SWTD programs. In 1998, three years later, they published the final regulations yet suspended the enforcement of these regulations just six months later. For over 13 years, marine parks have been operating SWTD programs basically policing themselves.
The regulations included 2 refuge areas with specific dimensions to provide the dolphins a place to go away from the public if they chose not to participate. They also stated there were to be no more than 3 human participants per dolphin/attendant ratio and required the dolphins interact no more than 2 hours a day with the public. There was also staff training requirements, cetacean training requirements and proposed rules on unsatisfactory, undesirable or unsafe behaviors.
Many current facilities do not have any safe refuge areas for the dolphins that offer them a chance to get away from the public if they choose. Many facilities are also using more than 3 guests per dolphin during an interaction. By doing this, parks are able to bring in thousands of more dollars a day while exploiting the dolphins involved in these programs all under the guise of education.
It has been over 13 years since these regulations were suspended. There are approximately 16 facilities in the U.S. operating SWTD programs with no governing agency overseeing what is going on during these interactive sessions. If these regulations were enforced, many parks would either have to build larger facilities or close their SWTD programs. It is time for APHIS to step up and lift the suspension of these regulations.
On January 23, 1995, APHIS published proposed amendments of the Animal Welfare regulations in the Federal Register to establish standards for “SWTD” interactive programs. On September 4, 1998, over three years later, APHIS published the final regulations in the Federal Register. The regulations included refuge areas for the dolphins, space requirements, guest to cetacean ratios, guest to attendant ratios, maximum interaction times, staff training requirements, training of cetaceans, proposed rules on unsatisfactory, undesirable or unsafe behavior and reporting of dangerous or harmful incidents.
On April 2, 1999, APHIS published a notice suspending the enforcement of the SWTD regulations. To date, the suspension continues and the SWTD attractions are unregulated in the United States. APHIS proposed and finalized these standards stating they were necessary to ensure that the marine mammals being used in these programs are handled and cared for in a humane manner. For over 13 years these programs have gone unregulated allowing facilities to operate under their own set of rules and regulations for these interactive programs.
APHIS’s role in Animal Care is to provide leadership for determining standards and ensure the humane care and treatment of animals. SWTD programs should be no exception when it comes to animal welfare. APHIS has had over 13 years to undergo any revisions of the SWTD regulations. It is time for APHIS to lift the suspension on the SWTD regulations for the welfare of the animals and the public’s safety.