Is The Government Doing Its Job To Protect Captive Whales And Dolphins?

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Hopefully the USDA will inspect and measure the concrete bowl where Lolita has lived the past 39 years and will find it unlawful under the Animal Welfare Act…

Those words from Howard Garrett’s post really got me wondering about how it is possible that the governmental agencies responsible for animal welfare are able to turn their backs when it comes to the Miami Seaquarium and the substandard tank where “Lolita” (the orca taken from L-pod) is forced to live.

The USDA arm of the government that is responsible is the Animal Plant and Health Service (APHIS). The Regulations read: 9 C.F.R. Sec. 3.104 – Space Requirements –
The primary enclosure for a Killer whale (Orcinus orca) must have a minimum horizontal dimension of no less than 48 ft. in either direction with a straight line of travel across the center.

Dimensions of “Lolita’s” tank. Photo courtesy Orca Network.

Lolita’s tank is a mere 35 feet from the front wall to the slide out barrier. At its deepest point in the center the tank is only 20 feet deep. She is about 22 feet long.

In 1995 the Humane Society of the United States filed a formal complaint against the Seaquarium regarding the substandard size of Lolita’s tank. The Animal Plant and Health Service (APHIS) has yet to act. Fourteen years later, she is still in the substandard tank.

Who is the Animal Plant and Health Service? Their mission statement says: “Protecting American agriculture” is the basic charge of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS provides leadership in ensuring the health and care of animals and plants. The agency improves agricultural productivity and competitiveness and contributes to the national economy and the public health.

The 1994 Marine Mammal Protection Act amendments eliminated NOAA Fisheries jurisdiction over captive care and maintenance of marine mammals held for public display, placing it under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Animal Welfare Act administered by the Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). However, the MMPA requires that NOAA Fisheries maintain the captive Marine Mammal Inventory Database.

The 1994 Marine Mammal Protection Act amendment concerning captive marine mammals:

NMFS and FWS will regulate the taking of marine mammals from the wild under the MMPA, while subsequent care and maintenance of captive marine mammals held for purposes of public display at registered or licensed facilities will be regulated by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act (Pub.L. 89-544, as amended). For the taking and importing of marine mammals for public display, permits will be issued only when [1] the effect of the take or importation on wild populations is considered, [2] the method of the taking is humane, [3] an institution is registered or licensed under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), [4] the institution offers an education or conservation program based upon professionally recognized standards of the public display community, and [5] the institution maintains facilities that are open to the public on a regularly scheduled basis. Although NMFS or FWS must be notified at least 15 days prior to the sale, export, or transport of a captive marine mammal, and NMFS and FWS must maintain an inventory of captive individuals, a permit or other authorization is no longer required to obtain, hold captive, transport, transfer, purchase, sell, or export marine mammals that are being held captive for public display purposes when animals move between facilities that meet the permit criteria. In addition, export of marine mammals is prohibited except as explicitly provided for in the Act.

So why doesn’t the USDA do anything to enforce the law with respect to “Lolita’s” living conditions?

Please take our poll on the captivity issue, thanks!

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