National Aquarium’s CEO Plans to Relocate Captive Dolphins


“Our empathy inspired us, but our compassion called us to act. If we can do just one thing to improve their lives, even just a little, we know it’s the right thing to do.”
– John Racanelli, CEO National Aquarium

In 2016, Baltimore, Maryland’s National Aquarium announced its plans to shutter its captive dolphin exhibit and to relocate the dolphins to an ocean sanctuary by the 2020s. As no other United States facility has yet to announce such plans, National Aquarium is leading the charge on an important initiative.

A performing dolphin seen at the National Aquarium in 2010. Image credit lina smith, CC BY-SA 3.0.

In October 2018 on the TEDx stage, John Racanelli shared his journey, starting as a young scuba diver at a marine park in San Francisco to becoming the CEO of National Aquarium. He recalls swimming with dolphins in California and feeling a mix of emotions, both “elation” and “sadness about the limits that we humans have placed on their lives.” Those swims were integral to the decision he made almost 30 years later, to initiate plans to move seven dolphins from the National Aquarium to a sanctuary, and in doing so, taking a huge step in the right direction for animals.

John Racanelli openly discusses his team’s plans to safely transition the dolphins to life in a sanctuary, such as adjusting tank water temperatures and introducing new and applicable stimuli. Although Racanelli is aware of the challenges his team and the dolphins will face once they are relocated, he seems to welcome the challenges ahead to do what is right. For this, we applaud the National Aquarium.

Dolphins swimming off the coast of Baja, Mexico. The dolphins currently kept at National Aquarium, and all captive dolphins, deserve to swim free as well. Image credit Kirt Edblom, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The National Aquarium was given an honorable mention on In Defense of Animals’ Ten Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales list for its commitment to retiring the dolphins in its care. We recommend other facilities follow its lead and join what John Racanelli calls a “powerful new movement to change the way we humans interact with the animals with whom we share this planet.”

Featured image: two wild Atlantic spotted dolphins swimming side-by-side. Image credit Ricardo Liberato, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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1 Comment

  1. E Mae Sutkiewicz on

    I’m glad to see this recent article. A few of us will be heading to the National Aquarium for Empty The Tanks day on May 11th to ask for an update and a further statement. While we applaud the National Aquarium for this event we would like to ask them to speak out further to activist groups. I am going as a representative of the environmental group Media on Taiji along with Ginny Coward Fine of Sea Shepherd Philadelphia. The founder of Media on Taiji, Tracey Ozdemir, has authored two children’s books on the subject of the dark practice of cetacean captivity. If it is okay to share them, they are available on Amazon Please connect with us all on Facebook! Just search our names!

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