WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wednesday proposed updates to captive marine mammal regulations that have been unchanged since 1998. The regulations are part of the 1966 Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which purportedly sets the standard for humane care of animals used in research or for exhibition. The proposed updates stem from new scientific data, APHIS said.
In summary, the changes would: require easier access to dry spaces for older or infirm seals, polar bears and sea otters; update water temperature, bacteria count and air quality standards; add requirements for full-spectrum lighting and shade; and make changes to rules for interactive programs, including a mandate that the animals have at least 10 hours without public interaction, though interactive time periods will be increased from two to three hours.
"The amount of time a marine mammal is allowed to interact with the public was increased from two to three hours based on recommendations from licensees with long running in-water interactive programs. They demonstrated through medical data that an additional hour would not harm the marine mammals. During interactive programs, marine mammals are required to have unrestricted access to a 'sanctuary' and are allowed to leave the interaction area as they choose," the agency said.
In the development of the proposed updates, the agency considered input from professional organizations, the public, exhibitors, and published scientific studies, in addition to its own experience with marine mammals, APHIS said.
The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, representing marine parks, aquariums, zoos, and research facilities, participated in the last updates of the AWA regulations in 1995 and 1996, which only reached consensus on 13 of the 18 sections of the act's regulations at that time, the group said in its response to the proposed updates.
"We are reviewing the proposed new language and look forward to the opportunity to comment," Kathleen Dezio, Alliance Executive Director, said. "Alliance members are committed to the safety and welfare of marine mammals, and we share APHIS' desire to ensure that the standards are science-based and reflect the professional best practices of the zoological community."
One of the Alliance's members, Miami Seaquarium amusement park in Florida, has been widely criticized for the conditions in which it has kept the orca named Lolita for over 40 years, in a small tank open to the sun with no shade protection, and in isolation from others of her species. The new updates to the regulations would not address the issue of isolation or pool size. APHIS said it did not have enough data to support increased space requirements at this time, though the action notes that the way in which such spaces are measured would be updated. The agency requests comments and information on that issue, as well as for the proposed updates.
Comments are due by March 4.
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