Baltimore's National Aquarium says it will send its eight dolphins to "the nation's first seaside dolphin sanctuary" before the end of 2020 amid increasing pressure from animal activists. The animals will live out their lives in the outdoor facility, which has not been built, but will still be cared for by humans, reports the Baltimore Sun. The decision comes four years after dolphin shows ended at the aquarium, which draws 1.3 million visitors each year. Though dolphins have been kept at the site for 25 years, "emerging science and consultation with experts have convinced us that dolphins do indeed thrive when they can form social groups, have opportunities to express natural behaviors, and live in a habitat as similar as possible to that for which nature so superbly designed them," CEO John Racanelli writes in an op-ed.
Racanelli says the move to "an outdoor, seawater facility in a tropical year-round climate"—probably in the Florida Keys or Caribbean—is the right thing for the dolphins, who will have a larger living space and access to marine plants and fish. It isn't clear what the project will cost. "There's no model anywhere, that we're aware of, for this," Racanelli tells the AP, noting the animals will need to learn to deal with pollution and jellyfish, as only the oldest of the dolphins—aged 7 to 44—has ever lived in the wild. "We're pioneering here, and we know it's neither the easiest nor the cheapest option." Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle says the aquarium has "done something terribly important" in showing that facilities are making animals the priority, per the AP. SeaWorld says it won't follow suit as "sea cages for our whales are high risk," a rep says. (Read more Baltimore stories.)