Members of Congress Call on USDA to Protect Marine Mammals
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must do more to ensure the safety and humane treatment marine mammals, urged Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), along with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and 20 other members of Congress. In a letter to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack, the members of Congress called on the agency to revise a proposed rule to reflect input from the scientific community, non-profits, and the public to improve protections for captive marine mammals.
In January, after nearly two decades and at the request of many members of Congress, the USDA proposed an update to Animal Welfare Act regulations for captive marine mammals. While the members applauded the agency for taking this long-awaited first step in updating the rule, they expressed serious concerns over the content of the proposed regulation, which appears to be heavily influenced by the exhibitor industry.
“While we are pleased that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposes updates to its captive marine mammal regulations after nearly two decades, we urge the agency to strengthen several key safeguards,” the Members wrote today. “We have serious concerns that the proposed rule has no updates to tank size provisions, leaving in place the 1984 standards. This does not reflect the most recent knowledge on animal welfare.”
The letter is cosigned by: Lois Capps (D-CA), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), John Conyers (D-MI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Bill Keating (D-MA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sander Levin (D-MI), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jim McGovern (D- MA), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jared Polis (D-CO), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
In 2015, Huffman, Schiff, and Sens. Feinstein and Boxer also asked the Office of Budget and Management to publicly release the proposed rule.
In the last session of Congress, Huffman and Schiff passed an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill for USDA to conduct and update the science necessary for Animal Welfare Act regulations on captivity of orcas and cetaceans. The Schiff-Huffman amendment passed with unanimous bipartisan support.
Schiff and Huffman have also introduced the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA) Act. This landmark legislation would phase out the captivity of orcas so that their display ends with this generation. Specifically, it would prohibit the breeding, the taking (wild capture), and the import or export of orcas for the purposes of public display.
The letter may be found HERE or below.
April 28, 2016
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We are writing to provide comments on the proposed rule to amend the Animal Welfare Act regulations regarding captive marine mammals [Docket No. APHIS-2006-0085]. While we are pleased that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposes updates to its captive marine mammal regulations after nearly two decades, we urge the agency to strengthen several key safeguards.
We have serious concerns that the proposed rule has no updates to tank size provisions, leaving in place the 1984 standards. This does not reflect the most recent knowledge on animal welfare. In fact, the proposed rule could potentially reduce protections for marine mammals by updating the formula from which minimum tank size is calculated. The new formula would be based on the average sizes of certain animals in captivity, which would decrease the calculated minimum space requirements. Furthermore, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which administers the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the figure does not take into account animals potentially added from the wild or more recently published information on size.
We are pleased that the agency has proposed to reinstate enforcement of what was formerly known as the “swim-with-the-dolphin program,” as the newly named “interactive program.” However, the proposed changes would reduce protections for captive marine mammals and the public. The proposed interactive program standards explicitly remove the requirement that facilities hosting such programs provide a buffer zone. The buffer zone serves as a valuable area for the animal’s wellbeing, as it is a safe space for the animal to retreat to, but still remain in the program if it chooses. Eliminating the buffer zone would reduce an animal’s ability to remove itself from the interactive program when it felt threatened or unsafe, with animals forced to be in either the interactive area or the sanctuary. Furthermore, the proposed rule would increase animals’ participation time in interactive programs from two hours to three hours per day.
Overall, we are concerned that there are several missed opportunities in the proposed regulations to strengthen important welfare protections for marine mammals, which are some of the most intelligent and social animals on the planet. For example, while the agency’s proposal makes improvements to salinity requirements for captive marine mammals, it also creates an exemption that allows the industry to continue business as usual by conceding that pinnipeds held in freshwater can be provided salt supplements and daily saltwater eye baths, noting that “we expect this will minimize additional costs and renovations at existing facilities.”
Again, we are pleased that the agency has finally taken an important step toward updating the animal welfare regulations for captive marine mammals. There is a clear desire among the public for an improvement in the welfare of captive marine mammals, and we urge you to revise the proposed rule based on the comments that you receive from the scientific community, non-profits, and the public at large to ensure that the final regulations reflect the latest science on animal welfare and marine mammal biology.
Thank you for your consideration of our comments.
Next Article Previous Article