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Update the Animal Welfare Act to protect captive dolphins and whales

This petition had 144,261 supporters

I am a veterinarian and have worked closely with marine mammals in both a clinic setting and in the wild. Dolphins and whales have highly evolved nervous systems and have demonstrated a capacity for intelligence, emotion, and self-awareness that is rivaled by few other species on this planet. The current USDA regulations for whales and dolphins in captivity are out of date and must be updated to reflect current science and to improve welfare standards for these animals.

The Animal Welfare Act, enforced by the USDA, sets parameters for minimum space and husbandry requirements for captive orcas in this country. Twelve years ago the USDA made a motion to revise the Animal Welfare Act’s regulations on basic care and facility standards for marine mammals in captivity. However, despite receiving over 300 comments from the public and recommendations from the Marine Mammal Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee, no amendments have been written into law for five important sections of animal care – indoor facilities, outdoor facilities, water quality, space requirements, and swim-with-dolphin programs.

While the Animal Welfare Act has been updated on several occasions to provide greater protection for other species, including laboratory animals and domestic dogs, the regulations for marine mammals have been consistently neglected.  These outdated regulations have allowed for animals to be kept in conditions that are detrimental to their health and wellbeing, and have resulted in an industry that is not only a danger to whales, but also to the people who share their tanks.

At last, the world is beginning to recognize that it is both wrong and dangerous to keep whales in captivity for human entertainment. Although the debate has been ongoing for many decades in the animal welfare community, the issue has finally taken a public stage after the release of the 2013 documentary, Blackfish. The film highlights the plight of Tilikum, a wild-caught SeaWorld orca who has killed 3 people since being brought into captivity, including his recent trainer Dawn Brancheau, just 4 years ago.

Like all orcas in captivity, Tilikum has been starved of everything that is natural for an orca. He is forced to live out his life in a barren tank, sometimes in isolation, sometimes with artificially assembled "pod-members." He is trained to perform unnatural tricks for crowds of screaming people, all for the reward of food - a basic right. The physical and psychological stress of this artificial environment has severe and long-term impacts on the health of captive whales. Extended periods of stress is a well-recognized cause of hormone imbalances and immune suppression, which can result in life-long health problems and even an early death.

At the end of May, 38 members of Congress from both sides of the political spectrum wrote a joint letter to the USDA’s Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack. In the letter, lawmakers urged the USDA to take immediate action to update captive marine mammal regulations. Please join me in urging USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to heed this request - by considering both current scientific knowledge and evolving public opinions on captive animal welfare, we can ensure a better life for whales across the country and simultaneously protect the people who have been entrusted with their care.

Please sign my petition asking for improved welfare standards for dolphins and whales in captivity.

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