Frequently Asked Questions

Sanctuary

Why is the National Aquarium creating a dolphin sanctuary?

Our decision to build a sanctuary is rooted in what we believe to be best for the eight dolphins in our care. Over the past five years, we have studied the issue and explored multiple solutions, ranging from rebuilding our existing tanks in a more naturalistic style to moving the dolphins to other accredited facilities. After careful consideration, we’ve concluded that the best way forward is to create a protected, year-round seaside refuge.

Sanctuary

Where will the facility be located?

Our site selection team is currently evaluating locations in Florida and the Caribbean, focusing on those with excellent seawater quality, a protected seaside site, and appropriate air and water temperatures in a year-round climate.

Sanctuary

Other than natural surroundings, what will the sanctuary offer?

Our vision is to create an outdoor facility where the dolphins will swim in natural sea water, with a vegetated shoreline (mangroves, sea grapes, etc.), in a flexible habitat configuration featuring pools that can be customized to meet individual dolphin needs. An on-site clinic will be fully staffed with marine mammal experts and a full-time veterinarian. The sanctuary will also serve as a center for applied science that advances knowledge and conservation.

Sanctuary

What is the timeline for opening the new sanctuary?

Our site selection team is in the process of evaluating several possible locations. Because we are committed to finding the best possible setting, we intend to allow the site selection process to take as long as necessary before beginning the actual physical relocation process for the dolphins. Ultimately, we plan to move the dolphins to the sanctuary by the end of 2020.

Sanctuary

Is the sanctuary just for the National Aquarium’s eight existing dolphins?

We are open to accommodating dolphins from other facilities, though our focus is on the eight dolphins in our care. We are committed to sharing our work at the sanctuary with others, and to fostering research that will benefit dolphins in the wild as well as those in human care.

Sanctuary

Who made this decision?

Beginning in 2011, the Aquarium enlisted a number of experts and stakeholders, both internally and externally, to evaluate this option. Teams of staff, board members, external researchers, scientists, animal care experts, veterinarians and biologists have been involved in the decision-making process which began with a comprehensive inquiry into the future of the National Aquarium’s physical space, visitor engagement and role in ocean conservation.

Sanctuary

Is this sanctuary in response to the recent announcement by SeaWorld regarding its orcas?

No. This decision is exclusively about our colony of dolphins. We have spent the past five years studying options for establishing new ways to care for the dolphins and, because we now know more than ever before about them, their needs and our audiences, the time is right for this initiative.

Support

What will the sanctuary cost?

It is too early to give a precise figure, as the cost will be very specific to the site chosen, reflecting both the price of the land as well as the design and construction expenses particular to that location.

Support

How will the sanctuary project be funded? How can I help?

We are seeking philanthropic support to create and sustain the sanctuary. You can help us turn our vision into a reality with a contribution to the National Aquarium.

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Dolphins

How many dolphins are at the National Aquarium? Where did they come from?

There are eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins at the National Aquarium. All were born in an aquarium or zoological park, with the exception of Nani, who was taken from the wild by a Texas marine park in 1972 and came to the Aquarium in 1990. At approximately 44, she is the eldest, while Bayley, at 7, is the youngest.

Dolphins

How will the dolphins be moved to the sanctuary? Is it safe for them?

The safety of the dolphins is our highest priority. A team of experts is already in place to evaluate all associated risks and provide our colony of dolphins with the safest possible transport and transition to the sanctuary. We are allowing four to five years for this process.

Dolphins

Will you breed dolphins at the sanctuary?

The National Aquarium discontinued breeding in 2011 and has no plans for breeding at the sanctuary.

Aquarium

What will become of the dolphins’ current home on Pier 4?

A team is currently evaluating options for re-purposing our space on Pier 4 and will be testing the most promising concepts based on their ability to inspire conservation, delight guests and ensure the Aquarium’s continued success.

Aquarium

What about visitors who want to see dolphins at the Aquarium?

We understand that our dolphins are beloved by many of our guests, and while we do not yet know what it will look like, we are committed to maintaining a connection between Aquarium guests and the dolphins. Throughout this transition and beyond, we will continue to offer our guests a dynamic and engaging experience.

Sanctuary

Is the decision in response to pressure from animal rights groups?

No. By nurturing a connection to the natural world, zoos and aquariums play an important role in conservation. These institutions inspire visitors to care for and protect precious ecosystems and wildlife, and with a mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures, our world-class aquarium is no exception. The decision to create a seaside sanctuary is exclusively about establishing a new way to care for our eight dolphins. Knowing more than ever before about these animals, their needs and our audiences, the time is right for this initiative.

Contact

Be a Part of the Conversation

This pioneering effort will create both excitement and questions. We look forward to advancing the dialogue around this important topic.


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The National Aquarium is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures.