6 min read

The Real 'Dolphin Tale' Aquarium To End Animal Shows, Focus Instead On Releasing Them

In a move that is centered on rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing injured marine animals back into the wild - not holding them captive for display - Clearwater marine Aquarium (CMA) in Florida has announced plans to drop animal shows from their roster.

Every year, the aquarium rescues dozens of injured dolphins, turtles and other animals from the Florida coast, providing them with the care they need before setting them free. Despite this noble mission, animal welfare activists have voiced criticism over the aquarium's handling of animals deemed unfit for release, likening their "educational" dolphin viewings to thinly veiled entertainment performances. But those performances appear to be coming to an end.

As the aquarium hopes to move forward with plans to build a new $68 million facility in downtown Clearwater, CEO David Yates says that it will be designed to embrace a different approach to dealing with the animals housed there.

"We don't rescue them so we can have them to show to guests. Our goal is to release them back into the wild," Yates told the Tampa Tribune. "We're not about the big shows and stuff like that. The whole essence of this thing is no matter what animals we have or don't have, the experience of getting behind the scenes of our work, that's going to be the draw long-term."

While the decision to end its animal shows may come as welcome news among people who see them as inherently exploitative, their continued presence at the aquarium is likely to remain a point of controversy. Gigi Glendinning, from animal welfare group 22 Reasons, is critical of the aquarium for showcasing rescued dolphins in pools at all, arguing that if they are unable to return to the wild, they should at least be moved to sea pens and not be put on display for profit.

"I believe everyone would have applauded a separate facility in the city to educate the public – including their computer games and mock rescue to engage kids – all the while bringing in money without exploiting any of their animals," Glendinning told The Dodo in an email.

"They could have large screens with remote cameras showing their ‘daily routines' and care of the animals or better yet, they could offer remote views of wild dolphins."

Clearwater Aquarium isn't the first to move away from dolphin shows in light of public opinion, largely attributed to backlash from the documentaries "Blackfish" and "The Cove." The National Aquarium in Baltimore also has ended its long-running dolphin shows and has since unveiled plans to move their animals into a seaside sanctuary.

Clearwater Aquarium's work with an injured animals was the inspiration of the 2011 film "Dolphin Tale," centered around the relationship between a boy and a dolphin named Winter who was fitted with a prosthetic tail. An upcoming sequel will reportedly feature a plotline in which another rescued dolphin is released back into the wild.

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