Epcot: Dolphins in Disney World

Disney's Dismal Dolphins

If there is one thing that can be said about Walt Disney the man, he was a visionary. Many animals are portrayed through Walt Disney’s magic screen — “Bambi”, “Dumbo”, “Lady and the Tramp”, “One Hundred and One Dalmatians”, and even modern films like “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.” And the irony of these films rests in the same underlying theme- all of them feature animals who in some form, encounter the worst of humanity. Which is why we don’t understand why Disney’s Epcot Center continues to keep captive dolphins when public support for keeping cetaceans in captivity, is rapidly waning.

Disney Dolphin Capture by Jay Sweeney

History of Epcot's Captive Dolphins

The “Living Seas Pavilion” (now renamed to “Seas with Nemo & Friends”) is a captive dolphin facility at Walt Disney World’s Epcot park in Orlando, Florida. It opened in 1986. When the facility first opened, a Disney spokesman claimed, “We won’t commercialize sealife. There are no tricks here.” That sentiment obviously didn’t last long. In the first five years, four of their six original dolphins had died. Three of the deaths were believed to have been caused by or contributed to by an aggressive tank mate named Bob. Epcot currently holds three remaining captive dolphins. Their names are Ranier (wild-captured), Calvin (captive bred), and Malabar (captive bred).

“The common thread has been trauma, actual trauma.”

– Kym Murphy, Disney’s vice president for environmental policy, after the back to back deaths of two dolphins at Epcot who were believed to have been rough-housed by a tankmate

Where Did the Dolphins Come From?

In 1985, dolphin dealer Jay Sweeney captured 6 dolphins off the Florida coast for Epcot- Bob, Geno, Tyke, Toby, Christie and Katie.

Ranier, Calvin and Malabar came to Epcot after being passed between a number captive facilities. Ranier was captured from the wild in the Gulf of Mexico in 1988, and was sent to the US Navy, then to Dolphin Connection, then to the Brookfield Zoo, then to Epcot, then to SeaWorld Orlando and then finally to Epcot. Calvin and Malabar were born in captivity. Calvin was sent from Dolphin Connection to Brookfield Zoo, then back to Dolphin Connection, to Epcot, then to SeaWorld Orlando, then back to Epcot. Malabar was sent from Dolphin Quest Bermuda to Epcot, then to SeaWorld Orlando then back to Epcot. These three are the only surviving dolphins, and remain at Epcot to this day. 

In 1993, Epcot also controversially acquired three surplus Navy dolphins for breeding purposes. The dolphins, Nina, Snapper & Noriko, were tipped for release by congress. The move had not been approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service and irked the agency considerably. Noriko was transferred back to the Navy in June 1997, and died that November. Nina went back to the Navy in Oct. 1998, and died just a few years later in 2001. Snapper was transferred back to the Navy with Nina, and is still alive.

How Did So Many of these Dolphins Die?

After being captured from the wild in 1985, Geno didn’t survive one year in captivity. He was trapped in a pool net and suffocated. 

In 1987, dolphins Christie and Tyke died within 3 days of each other. Christie died of a brain hemorrhage while Tyke died from a fractured vertebrae. Both deaths were believed to have been caused by an “aggressive” tankmate, a male dolphin named Bob.

In 1990, Katie died after a fight with Bob. Disney’s vice president for environmental policy, Kim Murphy told the media, “Bob probably contributed to the 1987 deaths of two other dolphins at the Living Seas,” referring to Christie and Tyke. Although Katie did have an ongoing lung condition at the time of her death, Murphy told the media “these animals didn’t die from disease and physical or biological problems. They died from a blow of some sort.”

Epcot courted further controversy in 1993, when it accepted three surplus Navy dolphins for breeding purposes. The dolphins, Nina, Snapper & Noriko, were tipped for release by congress. The move had not been approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service and irked the agency considerably. Noriko was transferred back to the Navy in June 1997, and died that November. Nina went back to the Navy in Oct. 1998, and died just a few years later in 2001. Snapper was transferred back to the Navy with Nina, and is still alive.

After continued problems with Bob, he was sent to the National Aquarium on a breeding loan in 2003. He quickly developed a severe infection and was euthanized less than a year after arriving at the aquarium.

Take Action for Epcot's Dolphins

Help spread the word! There are still many who are surprised to learn Disney has a captive dolphin facility and even more who are unaware of the problems with keeping cetaceans captive. Feel free to share this page or use any of our sample posts below on your social media to help spread awareness amongst your online community.

1. Leave Reviews

So many visitors utilize pages like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google Reviews to decide where they want to visit when traveling. This makes them the perfect places to help spread the word about the reality of life behind the scenes for captive dolphins.

2. Sign and Share the Petition

3. Share on Social Media

Use the graphics and captions below to share posts on your social media pages, and help spread awareness about the captive dolphins at Epcot.

And be sure to follow the Save the Disney Dolphins campaign on Instagram for additional updates and calls to action!

For captive dolphins, @WaltDisneyWorld’s Epcot is FAR from the #HappiestPlaceOnEarth. Violent wild captures and horrific deaths are the reality behind the park’s dolphinarium. Read all about it at bit.ly/2W10VpM

#DolphinProject

In the first five years of @WaltDisneyWorld’s captive dolphin facility at #Epcot, four of their six dolphins died. All were captured from the wild off the Florida coast by Jay Sweeney (cofounder of @Dolphin_Quest). Three of these deaths were linked to a dolphin who had been acting aggressively

towards his tank mates. Read more at bit.ly/2W10VpM

#DolphinProject

Additional Resources:

Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and all donations are tax-deductible as authorized by law.

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