Dolphins to leave Steinhart after two decades

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1995:

SAN FRANCISCO––Amphrite and Thetis are
moving. Kept in an admittedly undersized tank at the
Steinhart Aquarium since 1975 and 1978, respectively, the
two female Pacific whitesided dolphins will join others of
their kind at a state-of-the-art oceanarium elsewhere “within
three to nine months,” new Steinhart director Robert Jenkins
told ANIMAL PEOPLE in early March. “It’s not a question
of if, or when,” Jenkins added. “It’s just a matter of com-
pleting the logistics.”
One big unknown is the length of time it will take to
re-sling-train the dolphins. “They’ve been sling-trained
before, and they’ll remember,” Jenkins said. “But they may
need practice before they’re ready to leave.”

With a background including 13 years at the
National Aquarium in Baltimore, following experience at
Marineland of Florida and Sea World, Jenkins was at the
Steinhart less than two and a half weeks before deciding that
Amphrite and Thetis need more space. Not candidates for
return to the wild due to their advanced ages and the length of
time they have been captive, Amphrite and Thetis are physi-
cally healthy, but depressed, spending much of their time
with their noses pressed into the corners of the tank, between
brief attempts to amuse themselves with floating toys––as if
trying to be happy under dismal circumstances. They share
the tank, not designed for dolphins, with four harbor seals,
who were judged unsuitable for release by local stranding res-
cuers. Amphrite, 26, was captured for the Steinhart in 1975.
Thetis, 24, was donated by the U.S. Navy in 1978.
“Amphrite and Thetis received some environmental
enrichment through the work of Dr. Hal Markowitz and his
graduate students at San Francisco State University,” said
San Francisco SPCA ethical studies coordinator Pamela
Rockwell, who worked with Jenkins and former Steinhart
director John McCosker in developing the relocation strategy.
“They experimented with different apparatus that would allow
the dolphins to ‘order’ things they want, like fish, toys, and
strokes from humans. These programs were, however, dis-
continued last spring: the students graduated and Dr.
Markowitz is battling a serious illness.”
Plans for relocating Amphrite and Thetis were
accepted in principle by the California Academy of the
Sciences board of directors on March 13, and are to be final-
ized by a three-member panel. Members include leading
marine mammal veterinarian Joseph Girasi; Sam Ridgeway,
the dean of dolphin-movers, who once safely relocated 48
dolphins from Florida to Hawaii for the U.S. Navy; and dol-
phin handler Bruce Stephens, of Sea Ways, a San Diego
marine mammal operations consulting firm.
Only two other facilities in the U.S. have Pacific
whitesided dolphins, Sea World San Antonio and the Shedd
Aquarium in Chicago. Sea World San Antonio appears to be
Amphrite and Thetis’ most likely destination, having exten-
sive outdoor tanks, a large mixed-sex pod, and the only
record of successfully breeding Pacific whitesided dolphins in
captivity––although one of the Shedd group is now pregnant.
Sea World San Antonio curator Glenn Young has long hoped
to acquire Amphrite and Thetis, to more naturally diversify
the age range of the Sea World group. While they would not
be expected to breed, due to age, if they did show interest in
breeding they could significantly diversify the limited captive
Pacific whitesided dolphin gene pool.
Apparently eliminated from consideration was
Marine World Africa USA, which had hoped to acquire
Amphrite and Thetis after housing them temporarily several
years ago while the Steinhart underwent renovations.
Shedd loses a dolphin
The Shedd Aquarium would appear to be second
choice. Peers consider the Shedd the best indoor cetacean
facility in the world, but outdoor sites are believed to be
preferable. A move to the Shedd might also be politically
problematic, after the February 24 death of Quitz, a five-
year-old male Pacific whitesided dolphin captured off San
Diego along with two females in early December 1993.
Pathology tests released on March 16 indicate Quitz
died of erysipelas blood poisoning, probably caused by eating
frozen fish contaminated with erysipelas bacteria. According
to Shedd chief marine mammal trainer Ken Ramirez, the bac-
teria is common in fish and rarely harms marine mammals,
either in the wild or in captivity––though outbreaks have been
associated with some whale strandings. “But if somehow the
bacteria gets into an animal’s bloodstream, the animal will die
in 12 to 24 hours,” Ramirez said. “In this case we don’t know
how it got into the bloodstream. It could have entered through
a tiny perforation somewhere in the digestive tract. A bone
from the fish could have somehow pierced a tissue in his
Quitz had been scheduled for a medical checkup,
but was found dead the night before it was to take place.
“We pulled him up to the surface,” Ramirez said,
“but he had already passed away. We were in shock. It
wasn’t as if we had been dealing with an animal who had been
sick. It was like losing a member of our family.”
Ramirez said the Shedd dolphins and belugas are fed
only restaurant-grade fish. All of them ate fish from the same
batches, but no others were affected. A vaccination exists to
prevent erysipelas poisoning, but the Shedd doesn’t use it,
Ramirez said, because “The risk of using the inoculation,”
originally developed for use on pigs, “was more severe than
the risk of marine mammals contracting the disease.”
The only U.S. aquarium to take cetaceans from the
wild since 1990, and one of just two to capture any since
1987, the Shedd has now lost four of the 16 it has
acquired––including another male Pacific whitesided dolphin,
who died at a holding facility in 1988, 46 days after capture,
and two beluga whales, who died within minutes of each
other after deworming on September 22, 1992.
More than 40 members of Illinois Animal Action,
the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition, and Voice for Wildlife
picketed the Shedd on February 26. “Regardless of the final
diagnosis,” Deb Leahy of Illinois Animal Action said, “we
will continue to regard this as a killing by the Shedd, and
hold them fully responsible for it.”
Delicate negotiations
Jenkins replaces longtime Steinhart director John
McCosker, who retired, but is still on the CAS board.
Sources within the San Francisco philanthropic community
indicate that McCosker became amenable to moving the dol-
phins when it became apparent that Markowitz would not be
able to resume his studies. McCosker and Rockwell had
worked together since December on a tentative relocation
strategy, but McCosker left the decision to proceed up to his
Rockwell became involved in November 1994 when
ANIMAL PEOPLE forwarded to the SFSPCA a note from
subscriber Janice Garnett, of Venice, Florida, who became
concerned about the dolphins after visiting the Steinhart.
Rockwell, a specialist in negotiated problem-solving, con-
tacted the Steinhart to see what could be done.
The situation was delicate, the ANIMAL PEOPLE
sources said. Although the Steinhart announced years ago
that Amphrite and Thetis would not be replaced upon their
deaths, senior CAS officials were said to have become skep-
tical of relocation as an option when the Humane Society of
the U.S. failed to follow through on a pledge to find them a
better home. Demonstrations led by local anti-captivity
activists meanwhile put McCosker and the Steinhart in a no-
win situation. Having kept Amphrite and Thetis healthy for
far longer than any other Pacific whitesided dolphins have
ever survived in captivity, the Steinhart was accused of abus-
ing them. Reportedly refusing cash offers for them from
entertainment facilities, the Steinhart was also charged with
commercially exploiting them; their picture appears on many
CAS signs and on the shirts of employees. Under the circum-
stances, CAS didn’t figure to please anyone by sending the
dolphins to Sea World, then as now the most viable site for
relocation, but also focus of intense protest for keeping orcas,
led by some of the same activists.
Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.