Research often follows its own path. In seeking out one fact we inadvertently trip over another; such as dolphins disappearing from aquariums.
Marine mammal entertainment parks preach transparency but few ever achieve it. In many cases, any action taken is a ruse designed to disguise the truth or placate the public. We know it, and they know it. In the captive entertainment industry “no news” truly is good news. Take the case of the disappearing dolphins.
Much concern was expressed for Lolita the orca who was left to fend for herself in her uncovered tank at the Miami Seaquarium during Hurricane Irma. The park announced that the killer whale had ridden out the storm and was in good condition. They neglected to mention that they had lost two dolphins.
Although we cannot predict Irma’s impact on their deaths, one animal died when Irma made landfall, and the second died four days after the hurricane hit. Miami Seaquarium has not announced their deaths. But we will.
The first dolphin to die was Rioux. According to cetabase.org and supported by the Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR), Rioux died on Sept. 10, 2017. A female bottlenose, Rioux was born June 6, 2003, to Panama and Noel and was 14 years old. The Seaquarium did, however, report her death to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as bronchopneumonia and sepsis. Irma hit Biscayne Bay on the same day that Rioux died.
The second dolphin was also a bottlenose named Noel. According to the death report filed with NMFS, Noel died on Sep. 14, 2017, of a systemic infection, described as an anaphylactic reaction/bacterial. Born December 22, 1986, to April and Papi, he was almost 31 years old.
Aquariums are notoriously reticent when they lose animals and they bank on your ignorance. They know that the majority of visitors — even returning visitors, have trouble identifying individual dolphins of the same species. Miami Seaquarium is not the only park to play this game. Dolphins die and disappear and the public is none the wiser.
Further research with the MMIR and at Ceta Base.org yielded four more deaths this year that either went unannounced or, were unearthed by activists who forced the parks to admit them.
Bodie was born June 7, 2010, at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. He was transferred to Dolphinaris Arizona on August 24, 2016, and died on September 23, 2017 — within a year of the park opening amidst much controversy. The cause of death was reported as a “rare muscle disorder.” Inside sources rumored that the dolphin exhibited symptoms of “valley fever”, a fungal infection related to dust or soil-borne fungus.
Advocates Against Dolphin Captivity in Arizona called out the aquarium for not announcing the dolphin’s death. In fact, the death was not publicly acknowledged by Dolphinaris until October 27, after an anonymous insider broke the news online. There is a 30-day requirement from the date of the event for dispositions (deaths; escapes; releases) to be reported to NMFS, but as of Nov. 01 2017, Bodie’s death has still not been added to the Marine Mammal Inventory Report. He was just 7 years old.
Sea Life Park in Hawaii lost a male bottlenose named Mikioi on June 22, 2017. Mikioi was a wild-caught dolphin netted on Dec. 12, 1972, in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Mississippi. He arrived at Sea Life Park on January 10, 1973. His death was not announced by the park but was reported to NMFS and the MMIR as heart failure. He was estimated to be 48 years old, spent all but three of those years entertaining the public, yet his death did not merit a mention.
Georgia Aquarium also lost a male bottlenose dolphin in June. Makana was born November 9, 2003, at Dolphin Quest Hawaii and was transferred to Georgia Aquarium on June 6, 2010. He died on May 26, 2017, of acute pneumonia. Again, the death went unannounced but was reported to NMFS/MMIR. He was just shy of 14 years old.
It wasn’t until activist footage was released of Makai receiving treatment in his pen supported by floats that the US Navy announced the dolphin’s death. The male bottlenose, captured in the same region as Mikioi on July 10, 1974, was euthanized on April 11, 2017. Almost seven months on, his death has not been updated in the MMIR. He was an estimated 46 years old.
Records show that for public display animals, not including rescues but including calves less than 1-year-old, there have been 15 marine mammal deaths, nine of which were announced:
- Six at SeaWorld parks and were all announced: Kyara; Ringer’s Calf; Tilikum; Kasatka, Lily; Whisper’s Calf
- One at Dolphin Research Center was announced: Molly
- One at Gulf World Marine Park was announced: Brinnon
- One at National Aquarium in Baltimore was announced with pathology reports: Nani
Most marine parks remain reluctant to announce the deaths of their animals because it’s a lose-lose situation. Decades of deception has led to a monumental distrust in the animal rights community that aquaria cannot overcome. Bodie’s death, for example, and how it was handled by Dolphinaris Arizona only perpetuates the situation by promoting suspicion.
Did Bodie die from a muscle disorder or was it due to Valley Fever endemic to the hot, desert regions of Arizona?
Were the deaths of Rioux and Noel at Miami Seaquarium affiliated with Hurricane Irma?
Are there more deaths in 2017 not recorded on the MMIR?
We might never know for certain the true causes of death for these animals, but it’s certainly becoming more difficult for parks to hide their losses. Activists are becoming smarter, and with the aid of the MMIR and the fantastic inventories provided by Ceta Base, a little time and some research, goes a long way.