Special message from Minnesota Zoo Director/CEO Lee Ehmke
May 16, 2012
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