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New Proposed Regulations Governing Captive Whale and Dolphin Care Released

The release of today’s proposed rule by The Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to update guidelines for the care and handling of captive whales and dolphins is being met with mixed reviews by animal welfare advocates.

Fourteen years after APHIS began the public review process, the agency released a proposed rule to update these guidelines on water quality standards, space requirements, and swim-with-the-dolphin (SWTD) program rules, among other things. Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), an international organization who opposes the captivity of whales and dolphins, expresses disappointed that APHIS had not acted sooner, but realizes public concern over the welfare of whales and dolphins in captivity is much greater now than when this process was started over a decade ago.

Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for WDC  comments, “We welcome the release of this proposed rule that attempts to finally update those sections governing more contentious aspects of the Humane Handling and Care regulations for marine mammals, such as space requirements and dolphin interaction programs. Now, in tandem with the public review process, we can begin to identify weaknesses in the proposed rule and seek improvements before they are finalized as regulations.”

Currently, there are no specific regulations governing SWTD, wading, or petting pool programs in the US. Facilities engaging in these programs have not been held to specific safety standards or been required to report on injuries resulting from these interactive programs because regulations were suspended after industry objection in 1999. Prior to this suspension, regulations required injuries to be reported to APHIS, providing a way to document the potential risks to both swimmers and dolphins in SWTD encounters. Even without required reporting, the media has covered several cases of dolphins biting or behaving aggressively toward humans

 Dozens of SWTD facilities have opened in waters all over the globe since the regulations review began over a decade ago and there are more being proposed for the US, including a facility said to open in Arizona in 2016. As a leader in marine mammal standards and facilities worldwide, the US sets the stage for other countries interested in the commercialization and exploitation of whales and dolphins. While WDC welcomes the long overdue proposed rule, it does not go far enough. 

Vail notes, “Regardless of the revised regulations, these types of programs pose risk to both dolphins and humans. For this reason WDC continues to call for an end to interactive dolphin programs.”

The USDA Proposed Rule for Standards of Care for Marine Mammals in Captivity will be available for public review on February 3rd.