"You don't know what you've got ‘til it's gone," says the old adage, but just 48 hours after the Minnesota Zoo announced it's dolphin exhibit will be discontinued, nearly 1,000 fans of the underwater mammals have signed a petition that aims to block the move.
The Zoo notified the public that its dolphins will be leaving the Discovery Bay aquatic exhibit soon. No visit upticks to Atlantic bottlenose dolphins Allie and Semo have been reported as yet, though the duo is making waves with web surfers.
Word of the move Monday came in response to a bonding bill signed by Gov. Mark Dayton last Friday, which gives the zoo $4 million for much-needed improvements to the Discovery Bay aquatic exhibit –- but the upgrade requires Discovery Bay drain the pools where the dolphins live to upgrade.
Allie and Semo will have a farewell period before they move, so zoo guests can say goodbye to their favorite dolphins before they "swim off" this fall -- unless a group of petitioners gets their way, that is.
A posting on petition-generator site change.org read as follows Wednesday afternoon:
"On May 14th, 2012 the Minnesota Zoo published a press release on their website titled "Minnesota Zoo Receives $4 Million in 2012 Capital Investment Bill." In it, it is clear that the decision has been made to discontinue exhibiting Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.
"There are currently only four zoological facilities in the Midwest region of the United States that have the privilege and honor to care for dolphins. Dolphins alone have received remarkable special attention and admiration for thousands of years. Few animals in existence can claim popular recognition by cultures as far back and renown as the ancient Greeks. So to discontinue the display and firsthand education of dolphins from the Minnesota Zoo will not only inevitably affect the status and reception of the zoo by the public, but remove an ambassador species that has played an unprecedented role in the inspiration for others to act on behalf of animals and the environment.
"This decision by the Minnesota Zoo is not only upsetting in its own right, but what is more upsetting is that there were no published resources addressing the public that this was a possible outcome contingent on funding provided by the Minnesota State Legislature. The blame cannot be placed on the Minnesota State Legislature alone for inadequate funding, but is shared by the leaders of the Minnesota Zoo including, but not limited to, Minnesota Zoo CEO Lee Ehmke. It would be impossible that the Legislature and the leaders of the Zoo did not acknowledge the possibility of discontinuing the display of dolphins before the 2012 Capital Investment Bill was signed. To not inform the public before the bill was signed of the possible removal of a species that has played an integral part of the Minnesota Zoo for over thirty years is largely irresponsible and in some ways, insulting. This petition was established so the public can voice what they did not get the adequate chance to do: voice their support to keep dolphins at the Minnesota Zoo so that we may admire and learn of such an amazing species while retaining prestige for the Minnesota Zoo."
While the decision is ultimately the Minnesota Zoo's, it is apparent that this decision was based on funding provided in the bill passed by the state House, Senate and signed off by the Governor. So if a change is to be made, it will require involvement of all parties.
UPDATE (5.15.12): See "Petition Updates" section for an updates. Gov. Dayton and Rep. Larry Howes have expressed frustration for not knowing of this possible outcome before the bill was signed.
Also on Wednesday, the Minnesota Zoo CEO Lee Ehmke issued a release to "clarify" confusion surrounding what he called a difficult decision. That release can be found below.
Our announcement on Monday that dolphins would not be returning to the Minnesota Zoo following the repair of Discovery Bay has generated a wide range of reactions and questions. There appear to be several misunderstandings which we would like to clarify.
The Zoo's decision to end the exhibition of dolphins in Discovery Bay was extensively researched, and the difficult outcome is based on two related reasons: the welfare of the two beloved dolphins currently at the Zoo, and the fiscal and logistical challenges of acquiring a viable dolphin group to replace them.
Allie and Semo, the dolphins now living in Discovery Bay, need to move to another accredited facility to allow for major repairs to the pools and building in which they live. The State of Minnesota has committed funds through the bonding bill to undertake critical infrastructure repairs made necessary by years of salt water damage. We must do this work now, as the building's structural integrity and our license to operate the facility would be threatened by waiting. This requires the pools to be emptied, and will involve months of disruptive construction.
Allie and Semo will be moved to facilities where they can be part of larger social groups of dolphins. We do not own Allie or Semo, and the current situation of just the two of them living together is not an acceptable social situation. Moreover, Semo is the oldest male dolphin in human care, now approaching his 50th birthday, and we want to minimize the frequency of transporting him from place to place.
While the Zoo's initial plans were to complete the repairs and bring in a new social group of dolphins, it has become clear that there are no viable options for making this happen, either now or in the foreseeable future. We do not consider bringing animals from the wild an option. The Minnesota Zoo has been an active participant in a "consortium" of zoos and aquariums working together to maintain a population of dolphins for display through breeding and relocation; that is how most of the dolphins who have lived in Discovery Bay came to Minnesota. We actually only own one dolphin, Spree, who is part of a strong social group at another zoo. The current status of the consortium's dolphin population does not offer the possibility of forming an appropriate group of dolphins that could be sent to us, which is the only way we would consider keeping these intelligent and social animals. Other options—including the purchase of animals from other reputable sources—are not viable given the costs that would be involved.
We regret that there was some confusion about the appropriation. We informed representatives of the key decision-makers about the strong likelihood that no dolphins would be returning to the Zoo after the repairs were made, but we did not reach all the right people with the message. We apologize for that oversight and any misunderstandings it may have caused.
Although Discovery Bay has always featured dolphins, the building and its aquatic environments are also home to hundreds of other oceanic species, ranging from sea dragons to sand tiger sharks. The exhibit's purpose is to introduce guests to the amazing diversity of life found in the oceans, in support of the Zoo's mission of connecting people, animals and the natural world. Once the basic repair needs funded by the current appropriation have been addressed, we promise that future renovation of the pools will continue the Zoo's tradition of creating compelling, fun and educational experiences for our guests. We are sad to see Semo and Allie depart, but know that this is what is best for them. We also regret that dolphins--which have been an integral part of the Zoo experience since 1978--are simply not available to the Zoo at this time. Thank you for your understanding at this critical moment in the history of the Minnesota Zoo.
Director / CEO