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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

The Mirage casino's "Dolphin Death Pool" claims another life

Published 06/08/09
By Monica Engebretson, Senior Program Associate

The June 4 death of 2–year-old “Sgt Pepper” — the 14th reported dolphin to die at the Las Vegas Mirage Hotel Casino — is tragic, but perhaps more saddening is the lives he and other captive dolphins are forced to live.

From the moment Sgt Pepper entered the world in an artificial pool in the Mirage Hotel, all aspects of his life were manipulated to present entertaining and surreal experiences for hotel/casino patrons.

The fact that Sgt Pepper never had the opportunity to experience the freedom and wonder of his natural ocean environment, and that he died prematurely in a barren concrete tank, cannot be changed, and that is indeed tragic.

Adding to the tragedy is that The Mirage continues to breed and import more dolphins to stock its tanks.

Just weeks before Sgt Pepper’s death Born Free USA called on the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to deny the hotel’s request to import two additional captive dolphins into the country for its exhibit.

We pointed out the hotel’s dismal animal care record, the lack of educational and conservation value of the display, animal welfare and transport concerns, and more.

Now, if the permit is approved, the two dolphins will just be moving from one dolphin prison to another.

So what’s wrong?

Plenty.

Not only will these two be transported from a captive facility in tropical climes of Bermuda to the Mirage “death pool” in the arid Nevada desert, they will endure the extreme stress of being removed from their established social groups, and they will be forced to endure 32 hours of food deprivation and other related transport stressors.

Studies show that dolphins do not appear to become accustomed to transport, as mortality rate greatly increases immediately after each transport even when the transport is between facilities. In other words, the trauma of transport between facilities is comparable to the trauma dolphins experience when removed from the wild.

In addition, allowing a Las Vegas Casino to exploit dolphins for financial gain and pass it off as “conservation” and “education” is just plain wrong.

Viewing captive dolphins gives the public a false picture of the animals’ natural lives and fosters a benign and mythical reputation of dolphins. This constitutes a form of miseducation. Far from having a positive effect on education and conservation, captive marine mammal displays have a negative effect. Exposure to dolphins swimming in barren pools encourages people to consider wildlife as isolated objects or servants to human desires rather than as integral parts of an ocean ecosystem with their own intrinsic value.

The most important conservation message that people need to learn is how to value these animals without turning them into commodities.

The Mirage has produced no credible evidence supporting the claim that visits to dolphin exhibit (or any other exhibit, for that matter) translate into better understanding of dolphins (or any other species). Even if there were such evidence, would it justify the lives these animals are forced to live or justify the risks?

Many marine species — including, for example, humpback and right whales — enjoy a high level of public sympathy and concern despite the fact that they have never been maintained in public aquariums.

In addition, captive animals generally make poor models for free-ranging populations because captive animals do not interact with a natural environment or live in normal social groups. In addition, many captives exhibit abnormal behavior not known in the wild.

Subjecting these animals to the stresses of moving and transport for the purpose of commercial display only to live their lives in environments known not to accommodate their natural behavior is not conservation, educational, or humane.

Hopefully, the NMFS will do the right thing and deny the Mirage’s permit.

And perhaps we will see the day when the presence of captive dolphin exhibits repels patrons rather than attracts them. Only then will the Mirage “do the right thing” and get out of the animal exploitation business.

Blogging off,

Monica

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