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Dolphin Dilemma

The aquarium considers relocating its most popular mammals.

For 20 years, the National Aquarium was synonymous with its dolphin show until it was canceled and turned into “Dolphin Discovery” in 2012. Now, the aquarium is in talks to relocate its eight dolphins altogether. 

“Most large mammals in zoos get to ‘retire’ in elephant or lion sanctuaries,” says Aquarium CEO John Racanelli. “But there isn’t one yet for dolphins. If we do relocate them, it must be a carefully researched project.” 

The aquarium is in talks to spearhead the first seaside dolphin sanctuary in the country—although it’s at least three to five years away—and its priorities include keeping the dolphins together and maintaining a connection between the animals and visitors (perhaps through a program like Skype). 

“Our audience has evolved,” Racanelli says. “Baby boomers grew up on Flipper, but millennials grew up on Free Willy and The Cove. They are interested in these animals being treated more humanely.” 

He admits that conservation documentaries like The Cove and Blackfish have added some pressure: “They have been a real catalyst. Anyone who is still keeping dolphins and whales is paying attention to these trends.”