The Time Is Right

Published June 14, 2016

by John Racanelli, Chief Executive Officer

I was 17 when I met a dolphin named Spock, the first of many that I’ve known in my lifetime. 

As a SCUBA diver at a marine park on San Francisco Bay, I had the job of scrubbing algae off the concrete walls of the dolphin tank—Spock’s home—for hours at a time. I loved it, of course, but even then, I wondered what Spock’s previous life in the blue vastness of the open sea must have been like.

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I left that marine park in the early 1980s, and it wasn’t until I came to the National Aquarium 30 years later that I found myself once again responsible for the care of dolphins. By then, I had a very different outlook. Times had changed, as had our understanding of the unique welfare needs of these intelligent animals. 

With that knowledge, the National Aquarium is today announcing our decision to create the nation’s first seaside dolphin sanctuary and to move our colony of dolphins there before the end of 2020. 

Our quest to find a new way to care for the dolphins began five years ago. Working closely with the aquarium’s board of directors, an internal team weighed many options, ranging from rebuilding our existing pools in a more naturalistic style to moving the dolphins to other accredited facilities. In the end, we decided that the best way forward was to create a protected, year-round, seaside refuge for the dolphins. We didn’t make this decision because it was the cheapest or easiest option—it was neither—and it wasn’t a decision we could have made quickly or without thoughtful consideration. For us, the belief that this is the right decision came down to three things: the dolphins, our community and our own mission. 


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John Racanelli

Chief Executive Officer

National Aquarium - John Racanelli

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