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What's wrong with Sea Pens?

At their press conference, The Dolphin Company, Jim Irsay, Pritam Singh (Friends of Lolita) and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniela Levine Cava announced that relocating the 58-year-old Killer Whale, Toki, into a sea pen in the Pacific Northwest, would lead to a happy fairy tale ending. Unfortunately, the reality is far more complicated.

Maintaining water quality in the sea pen is a great concern of ours. As Toki, Lii, and Loke have aged, these three animals have become fragile to even slight changes to their environment. This is especially true for Toki. Just last year she almost died from a respiratory illness that was reportedly a result of an issue with her water quality and changes in her pool. It is impossible to adjust and maintain water quality in a sea pen in what we already know to be polluted waters of the Pacific Northwest. Toki’s health will undoubtedly be compromised as a result of the additional pollution and new pathogens.

Another significant problem is garbage accumulation in sea pens. Ingestion of foreign objects presents a deadly risk for not only Toki but also for Lii and Loke (the dolphins). While we were working at Miami Seaquarium, trainers were present to watch over Toki’s pool whenever the stadium was open to the public. A uniformed attendant was required by USDA, as guests could potentially drop things like cameras, toys and water bottles into the pool. The dolphins and Toki were notorious for grabbing foreign objects and sometimes even consuming them. Trainers were on standby to jump in and immediately retrieve the object before they were able to eat them. A sea pen presents far more opportunities for debris to enter the enclosure from surrounding land, air, and water bodies. The open nature of the sea pen makes immediate debris removal very infeasible.

We are also concerned about the daily medical care the three animals continue to receive. While it is possible to sustain the diets of the animals, a sea pen greatly inhibits other medical procedures, including the daily IV antibiotics that Toki has needed in the past year. Emergency medical treatment, already challenging in her existing environment, would be next to impossible in an open ocean sea pen. Unlike Keiko who was younger and healthier in his sea pen, we must consider the greater medical needs of Toki, Lii, and Loke, which will not be met in any sea pen.

Relocation to a sea pen would be irresponsible and even negligent for Toki, Lii and Loke. They have been receiving daily supplements, medications and physical examinations for more than 25 years. They have demonstrated how fragile their immune systems and health are. Now is not the time to try something new.

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