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April 26, 2010

Congress Explores Issue of Captive Marine Mammals

House Committee to hear about marine mammals in captivity after SeaWorld death

WASHINGTON – An expert with The Humane Society of the United States is testifying Tuesday at the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife's oversight hearing on Marine Mammals in Captivity: What Constitutes Meaningful Public Education?

The hearing was inspired by several recent events: the death of a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando in February; the Academy Award win in March for the documentary "The Cove," about the Japanese dolphin hunts and their connection with public display; and the announcement in March that the National Marine Fisheries Service will revise its Marine Mammal Protection Act regulations, including those related to public display. Naomi Rose, Ph.D., senior scientist for Humane Society International and marine mammal biologist for The HSUS, will testify.

"People may believe that they are receiving an accurate education from marine mammal attractions, but in fact a lot of information provided at dolphin shows and on aquarium websites is misleading, incorrect or simply missing," she said. "It's time Congress and the agencies took a critical look at the conventional wisdom that marine mammal live displays serve the animals' best interests."

The hearing will examine the statutory requirement that all marine mammal public display facilities have an education or conservation program. The belief that zoos and aquariums effectively and accurately educate the public about the biology and conservation status of wildlife was the foundation for the exemption for public display in the MMPA. According to this law, a permit is required to hold marine mammals for public display, yet for the past 16 years, NMFS, the federal agency responsible for implementing the MMPA for whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions, has failed to issue regulations for public display permit holders or education programs.

"The bottom line is that public display facilities are going to have to prove to Congress and the public that they do more than entertain in order to meet their mandate under the MMPA," said Courtney Vail, campaigns officer for Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. "They are required to be institutions of education and conservation, and we do not believe they have met the mark."

In addition to Rose, witnesses include Louie Psihoyos, the director of the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove;" Lori Marino, Ph.D., of Emory University; Peter Corkeron, Ph.D., of Cornell University; and Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Julie Scardina, a curator at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment; Rae Stone, DVM of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums; and Paul Boyle, Ph.D., senior vice president for conservation and education for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, will also testify.

The hearing is at 10 a.m. in Longworth House Office Building, Room 1324, Independence Avenue and South Capitol Street, Washington.

Testimony and a link for the hearing's live webcast are available here.

Video is available of The Loneliest Whale in the World, What to do With a "Killer" Whale. Rose recently visited SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla. to see Tilikum and how his life has changed since the tragic death of his trainer.

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Follow The HSUS on Twitter. See our work for animals on your iPhone by searching "HumaneTV" in the App Store.

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, is the global voice for the protection of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and their environment. Established in 1987, WDCS has offices in the US, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Germany, and the UK and maintains a worldwide network of consultants, researchers and supporters. WDCS funds conservation and research projects in countries all around the world. Visit wdcs-na.org for more information.

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