(Nevada Current) Of the fifteen dolphins born at the Mirage on the Las Vegas Strip since 1991, 11 are dead, having lived an average of just under eight years, well below the 30-year life expectancy of dolphins. bottlenose dolphins.
The dolphin exhibit closed this week after the third death in less than six months. Maverick, 19, and K2, 11, died in September. Bella, 13, died in April. All three were born at the Mirage.
“Since the Mirage has only been open for 30 years, most of the dolphins should still be alive. Certainly the ones that were born there should still be alive,” says Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Institute for Animal Welfare in Washington, DC “If you protect them from predators and food shortages, and all the things that threaten them in nature, they should live longer than in nature.”
MGM Resorts International did not respond to interview requests.
In the three decades of the dolphin attraction, 16 of its 23 dolphins (70%) have died, according to Ceta-Base, a nonprofit organization that tracks data on marine mammal attractions.
Duchess, who was captured from the wild in 1981, is the oldest dolphin on the Mirage, followed by Huf-n-Puf, who was born on the Mirage in 2000. The other five surviving dolphins are five years old or younger.
“There are all sorts of statistical reasons why you should be careful about the inferences you draw,” Rose warns. “But with a species that can live to be 65 years old, you could argue that everyone should stay alive.”
Rose says there are several dozen captive dolphin facilities in the United States, all accredited.
“But there should be no facilities in the desert. That’s just stupid,” she says. “As a professional biologist, I am offended that the industry thinks it is appropriate for these animals to be in the desert.”
The Blackfish Effect
Cetacean attractions and captive breeding programs, like the Mirage’s, have long fallen out of favor with the public.
“The ‘Blackfish effect’ really changed the whole public mindset about killer whales, but it spilled over to dolphins a little bit,” Rose says of the documentary revealing the trauma suffered by whales in captivity.
Mexico City has banned dolphin attractions. Brazil, Canada, India and the UK have banned captive whale and dolphin attractions. But the practice is still permissible in the US.
A 2018 study published by the National Library of Medicine found that 60.9% of those surveyed would likely not visit a marine mammal park with captive whales. However, 60.3% said they would probably visit a ‘swim with dolphins’ attraction, such as the one at the Mirage. Americans were more likely to visit such an attraction than other nationalities surveyed.
Some tour companies have dropped affiliations with marine mammal attractions. In 2019, Richard Branson announced that Virgin Holidays would end “the sales and promotion of tourist attractions involving captive cetaceans, such as whales and dolphins.”
Rose says that the attraction has given the Mirage, and by extension, Las Vegas, a bad name.
“There are people who don’t go to the Mirage because it has dolphins, lions and tigers, and that’s unacceptable,” he says. “The spirit of the times has really changed. There are certain animals (elephants, tigers, whales, dolphins) that the American public does not feel comfortable being entertained with. That’s why SeaWorld made the decision it did.”
Sea World announced in 2016 that it was ending its captive breeding program for whales, given public criticism of its treatment. Animal activists are also calling for an end to dolphin shows in the park.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority did not respond to questions about the dolphin deaths that could damage the city’s reputation.
Advertising guru Billy Vassiliadis, whose R&R Partners creates the LVCVA’s marketing campaigns, also did not respond to interview requests.
The Mirage has underlined the importance of its dolphin habitat in research to benefit the spread of wild populations.
“There is no evidence of a decline in the number of wild bottlenose dolphins to justify keeping and breeding dolphins in captivity to help replenish wild populations,” says the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Europe’s largest charity. animal welfare. in the United Kingdom. “To justify keeping a highly intelligent animal with complex social structures and naturally traveling long distances for conservation purposes, the species would have to be seriously threatened.”
Will they stay or will they go now?
The Hard Rock, which is in the process of buying the Mirage, has declined to say what will become of the dolphins or big cats in the Secret Garden, remnants of Siegfried and Roy’s reign on the Strip.
“We continue to abide by the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s regulatory process and are not commenting on future plans at this time,” Gina Massiel Cadahia, vice president of Brand Reputation, said in a statement. The GCB has no such restriction on comments from applicants.
“I found Hard Rock’s response a bit silly. I doubt they (game regulators) care about animals,” Rose said. “Unless you’re publicly beheading tigers, I can’t imagine you can bring Nevada’s gaming industry into disrepute.”
Nevada gaming regulation requires licensees to conduct proper operations. What the traveling public found appropriate in 1990 is not necessarily the same today.
“This would be a good time for the Board to fine them,” says former gaming executive and former California Gaming Control Commissioner Richard Schuetz. “Advertising alone would let them know clearly that this type of behavior is totally inappropriate and needs to be addressed, assuming that three dolphins dying in seemingly close proximity is indicative of a problem.”
The Gaming Control Board did not comment on the possible action against MGM Resorts International regarding the dolphin exhibit.
Steve Wynn to the rescue?
Las Vegas has former hotelier Steve Wynn to thank or blame for the Mirage dolphins, depending on your point of view.
“Steve Wynn probably didn’t know the suffering that entails for captive dolphins,” says Linda Faso, a longtime animal activist. “But with Free Willy and Blackfish seen by millions, people have a better understanding of why they belong in the ocean and not in a pool full of chemicals.”
Faso says the dolphins’ plight presents an opportunity for Wynn to “get some good press for a change” by organizing a safe haven for the dolphins. “How wonderful it would be if he offered to pay for the dolphins to be transported to a sea pen.”
Rose says the National Aquarium is “very close to at least identifying” a safe site for a coastal dolphin sanctuary, but the effort is years away.
Mirage or Hard Rock could provide their own sanctuary for the dolphins, he says, or partner with the National Aquarium. “Or they could just send them to another facility that is not in the desert. That’s my least favorite option, but it’s an option.”