Eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins will be sent from tanks to a seaside sanctuary—dubbed "the first of its kind in North America"—by the end of 2020, National Aquarium officials announced Tuesday.
The dolphins, which have been kept in the Baltimore aquarium, will be moved to a newly-built, protected habitat, the Associated Press reports. The Aquarium and its board of director had been exploring possible ways to care for the dolphins in a more "naturalistic style" for the past five years, settling on a refuge that would be staffed year-round. The location for the refuge has not yet been decided, though the Baltimore Sun reports that locations in Florida and the Caribbean are being considered.
“We now know more about dolphins and their care, and we believe that the National Aquarium is uniquely positioned to use that knowledge to implement positive change,” said John Racanelli, chief executive officer of the National Aquarium, said in a news release. “This is the right time to move forward with the dolphin sanctuary.”
The potential seaside refuge location will be chosen for its ability to provide lifetime customized care for each dolphin, its space, depth and natural sea water, its climate and its "natural stimulus for the dolphins," such as fish and aquatic plants, according to the National Aquarium.
Animal rights activists have protested against dolphins being kept in captivity for years. Racanelli wrote in an Op-Ed piece that appeared in the Sun Tuesday that the National Aquarium has evolved from "an entertaining sea life attraction to a nonprofit aquatic conservation organization."
"Ultimately, both those new facilities and the sanctuary itself can serve to advance our mission to inspire conservation of the world's aquatic treasures," Racanelli said in the opinion piece.