Cetacean Captivity: USDA Walks Away in Miami, Dolphin Show Shuttered in Vegas

In March 2022, the US Department of Agriculture issued an exhibitor’s license under the Animal Welfare Act to the new owners of Miami Seaquarium that omits the Whale Stadium and its residents—the orca Tokitae (Toki) and the Pacific white-sided dolphin Lii. This means USDA inspectors no longer evaluate this part of the facility. This was alarming, but Miami Seaquarium did subsequently agree to allow an independent team of professionals to examine and care for Toki. Since May 2022, the organization Friends of Tokitae has been publishing monthly assessments of Toki’s health and welfare, prepared by James McBain, DVM (retired) and Stephanie Norman, DVM, PhD. Toki has undergone various veterinary treatments, as her health has repeatedly oscillated from stable to poor and back again. Her health is currently stable and the new owners have agreed to send Toki to another location, once all stakeholders agree where that should be. AWI continues to monitor this situation closely. 

In other captivity news, Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage in Las Vegas is closing following the sale of the famed casino from MGM Resorts to Hard Rock International. After a string of dolphin deaths at the facility—Bella (13) in April 2022, Maverick (19) and K2 (11) in September 2022, and Duchess (48) in January 2023—three of the remaining six dolphins, Karli, Sofi, and Osborne, were sent back to SeaWorld San Diego, from which they had been on loan. AWI celebrates this closure, as it results in one less facility with captive dolphins on display and no more US dolphins in the desert. Thankfully, it is also occurring prior to the commencement of major transformational construction on the property, which would have been highly disturbing to the dolphins. AWI would prefer that the three dolphins still in Las Vegas go to a sanctuary, and has recommended this option to Hard Rock. We will report on their final disposition when we know.

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