Each year, more than a million people visit the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland. One of the main attractions is the dolphin exhibit. Visitors love to watch the eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins swim and play.
But those dolphins won’t be in their tank for much longer. The aquarium recently announced that it will close its dolphin exhibit within the next four years. The dolphins will be moved to a protected area in the ocean—the first dolphin sanctuary that is part of the U.S.
AQUARIUM PROS AND CONS
The decision to move the dolphins was made after years of protests. Some people say aquariums are important places to learn about dolphins. But many scientists and animal-rights groups think that keeping these creatures in captivity (the state of being held or trapped, as in a cage or a tank) does more harm than good.
Dolphins are intelligent animals, and they can become bored swimming in the same tank. In the wild, dolphins can swim up to 161 kilometers (100 miles) each day. Scientists say without the freedom they have in the ocean, dolphins can suffer.
“Captivity compromises their way of life,” says Maddalena Bearzi, a biologist at the Ocean Conservation Society in California. “They can become stressed out in tanks.”
OUT TO SEA
The new sanctuary will give the dolphins much more space to swim than they have at the aquarium. The area will be in an enclosed part of the ocean where human caretakers can check on them. After spending their lives in tanks, the dolphins might have a difficult time surviving by themselves in the open sea.
The new sanctuary isn’t set to open until 2020. Officials at the aquarium are still choosing a site. It will likely be either off the coast of Florida or in the Caribbean Sea. No matter what the location, Bearzi thinks it’s a good move. “All aquariums should go in that direction,” she says.