This will be the first dolphin ocean sanctuary in North America

By Kelli Bender
Updated June 15, 2016 08:03 PM
Credit: Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun/MCT/Getty

That wish will soon be a reality for the eight captive Atlantic bottlenose dolphins of Baltimore’s National Aquarium.

On Tuesday, the facility announced that, after years of research, they have decided to move their dolphins to the freedom of the ocean.

According to The New York Times, the aquarium will build the nation’s first dolphin sanctuary for the transition and plans to have all of the animals moved by the end of 2020.

The National Aquarium has been debating what do with their captive dolphins since they stopped dolphin performances several years ago. The aquarium’s officials eventually chose an ocean sanctuary, after scientists showed that these highly-intelligent mammals need space and the opportunity to form social groups for a truly positive quality of life. A team is currently working on finding a site for the sanctuary, with spaces in Florida and the Caribbean being eyed.

While this new life won’t be a full release into the wild, the move will provide the animals with significantly more space and natural stimuli. The dolphins will still require human care, since all but one of the animals have been hand-reared since birth.

“Up until now, the alternatives did not include having an oceanside seawater facility that dolphins could go to and not be engaged in something like a swim program or some other kind of revenue-producing model,” said John Racanelli, the aquarium’s chief executive officer. “We’ve set the criteria that the needs and interests of the dolphins will come first, and that hasn’t really been tried yet.”

This announcement is seen as a huge win for animal rights activists, who hope this decision inspires other facilities to put the happiness and health of their animals first.

“We’re thrilled, and we think that this is really a breakthrough decision,” Lori Marino, the president of the Whale Sanctuary Project told NYT. “This is going to improve the animals’ welfare enormously. It’s going to restore to them a little bit of what was denied them all these years, living as performers in an aquarium.”

The National Aquarium’s dolphins will continue to be on public viewing until the move. Visitors are invited to watch the animals learn and train for the transition, which will include swimming into transportation units, acclimating to outside spaces and becoming comfortable being lifted by a crane.