MIAMI (AP) - Eight dolphins that once performed at the National Aquarium in Baltimore will be retired from their tanks to a seaside sanctuary.
The aquarium is announcing plans to move its Atlantic bottlenose dolphins into a protected habitat by the end of 2020. Officials say they haven't settled on a location, but are scouting sites in Florida and the Caribbean. The four year timeline lets staff prepare the dolphins for the move, and give them time to adapt to ocean living.
Only one of the aquarium's eight dolphins has ever lived in the ocean, chased a fish through sea grass, or swam during a rainstorm. Ranging from seven to 44 years old, the entire colony only knows the 1.3 million gallon amphitheater tank.
"In the sanctuary, we envision it being measured in tens of millions or possibly hundreds of millions of gallons, so it's going to be significantly larger then the one they live in today," said Aquarium CEO John Racanelli. "And that's important because migratory animals like dolphins needs a lot of territory to rove around in."
The goal is for the sanctuary to be an outdoor, seawater enclosure so the dolphins get to experience life very close to how they exist in the wild.
Officials hope to build the habitat to accommodate up to 20 dolphins, but say there are no immediate plans to relocate other mammals. The aquarium stopped breeding its colony in 2011, and will not breed them in their new habitat
The aquarium has been considering new options for its dolphins for several years amid growing public distaste for live animal shows.
"We simply cannot keep them healthy and happy in captivity, despite decades of advances in husbandry and medical care for these animals, it is our moral obligation to find an alternative," said PETA Foundation Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Heather Rally.
PETA applauds the decision to move the dolphins, calling it historic.
"We believe that this is actually marking the beginning of the end of a cruel era in which we kept whales and dolphins in concrete tanks," Rally said.
The dolphins stopped scheduled performances in 2012 but remain on display.
SeaWorld is making similar changes to its killer whale shows, but has balked, along with other industry leaders at releasing orcas or dolphins into the ocean.
Aquarium officials say while the public will be welcome at the sanctuary, the needs of the eight dolphins will come first.
The price of the project depends on the ocean side property that is picked. The non-profit plans to fundraise to cover the cost. For more information about the sanctuary and to donate, click here.
ABC2 News contributed to this report.