Suzanne Potter / California News Service
SAN DIEGO – Wildlife conservation groups are speaking out against a new federal rule that is supposed to improve conditions for captive marine mammals, including dolphins and orcas, saying the rule actually weakens some existing protections.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just released a proposal to further regulate conditions such as the water temperature and features required in the animals’ enclosures.
But Sharon Young, marine issues field director for the Humane Society of the United States, says although the change would lead to some improvements, she’s disappointed in other aspects of the proposal.
“For example, the number of hours that an individual marine mammal has to interact with the public in a ‘swim-with’ program has been increased from two hours a day to three hours,” says Young. “Animals can be very stressed.”
The rules, which are decades in the making, would regulate captive marine mammals in aquariums and amusement parks around the country. Sea World San Diego said in a statement that it is reviewing the proposal and looks forward to collaborating with the agency to ensure the highest standard of care for the animals.
Another section of the proposed rule sets minimum tank lengths based on the animal’s size. Young contends the tanks will still be too small and says in any case, it isn’t possible to replicate conditions in the wild.
“We are strong advocates for doing away with these kinds of captive programs, particularly these interactive programs,” she says. “But until we can make that happen, these animals deserve more than just a body length worth of depth and limited room to move.”
A 60-day public comment period is expected to kick off in the next few days, once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register.
In November, California Congressman Adam Schiff co-sponsored a bill to prohibit trade in killer whales, block their capture in the wild, and outlaw the breeding of captive orcas.