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Dear Alliance Members & Friends:
For the past 21 years, our association has effectively represented the community on scores of issues to multiple constituencies and worked to serve our members in many other ways. Thanks to the hard work of our executive director, Board and committee members, this year was no exception. From lobbying the U.S. congress to submitting comments on a range of issues to regulatory bodies in a number of countries, to promoting Alliance standards and accreditation to travel and tourism organizations, and representing a unified voice for our community to the media, the Alliance had a productive year.

We began 2013 with a search for a new executive director after our founding executive director of 21 years, Marilee Menard, retired. At the start of last year’s annual meeting, we were very excited to announce the conclusion of that search and the appointment of Kathleen Dezio, who has substantial association leadership and advocacy experience, to be the new executive director of the Alliance.

One of the first things the Alliance Board asked Kathleen to do was to hit the road and get to know our community by making a series of trips to different regions of the U.S., visiting facilities large and small in each of them. While this would involve a significant investment of her time this first year, we thought it would be the best possible way for her to see the breadth and depth of our diverse community, witness our dedicated trainers, educators, veterinarians and other team members in action, and better understand our challenges and needs

As Kathleen writes in her accompanying letter, these visits proved enormously helpful in her “onboarding” process and gave her great insight into how and why we do what we do. In the coming years, we want Kathleen to have similar opportunities to visit some of the facilities of our international members.

We also began the year in the midst of an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) on the Pacific Coast of California, resulting in the stranding of more than 2,000 sea lion pups. In the spring, after hearing at the 2013 Alliance annual meeting that because of the high number of animals stranding, many of the stranding centers helping with the effort were short staffed, had exceeded their budgets and exhausted their funding for food and medical supplies, 18 Alliance member organizations stepped in to work with the National Marine Mammal Center in California and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), providing donations, trained personnel, food, medical supplies, transponders and other equipment. Numerous Alliance members also offered a permanent home to pups deemed non-releasable.

In the midst of that UME, the Alliance sent letters to key legislators and went to Capitol Hill and to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to remind key legislators and regulators of the importance of continued funding for the Prescott Grant program, which helps to offset the substantial costs of the stranding efforts of Alliance members and others, after the program was threatened with deep cuts or elimination. Although the program was cut, it was not eliminated, and we were told our visits and letters played a significant role in keeping the program alive.

The Alliance also weighed in with U.S. agencies on a number of other issues important to our community, submitting comments to:

  • NMFS on behalf of Georgia Aquarium’s permit application to import 18 beluga whales from Russia
  • The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service urging them to reject a petition from the Humane Society of the U.S. to prohibit public contact with certain species and instead leave this to the discretion of trained animal care experts to decide which animals are appropriate to participate in public contact programs
  • NMFS in opposition to a PETA petition to list killer whale Lolita in the Endangered Species Act (ESA), potentially subjecting her to conditions that could jeopardize her health and well-being
  • NMFS in opposition to a proposed rule on the PETA petition to list killer whale Lolita in the ESA

In response to increased activity in the states in 2014, the Alliance alerted Florida members to problematic language in a Florida anti-animal-cruelty bill that would have had significant unintended consequences on our community and provided them with advocacy materials. Florida Alliance members contacted their legislators about the problems with the bill, and the problematic language was corrected.

Legislators in California and New York also began to advance state legislation that would ultimately ban orcas from our facilities. We are working with Alliance member facilities to oppose these bills and educate legislators about the significant conservation and research benefits of having cetaceans in human care and will continue to monitor what is happening with these bills.

In the international arena, the Alliance submitted comments to a committee convened by the Government of Ontario to examine the “benefits and deleterious effects of keeping cetaceans in captivity In non-research facilities,” giving them numerous scientific references for the benefits of cetaceans in human care.

In the European Union, our Brussels office and international counsel provided comments on the final version of the newly revised guidelines for the keeping of mammals in Germany and prepared responses to parliamentary questions related to a proposed ban on dolphinaria. We also participated in our third Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and achieved accreditation as an international non-governmental organization (NGO).

With several high profile issues involving our community in the news this year, we provided comments and expert spokespersons to reporters on a wide range of issues important to our community, with our spokespeople appearing on CNN, NPR, BBC, Anderson 360 and in numerous print and online publications. In response to member interest in receiving current news coverage of the industry, we created a daily news digest for our members and friends. We’ve also created a Regulatory, Legislative and Public Affairs Update to help keep our members informed.

Our Education Committee had one of its most successful and well-attended conferences yet in Vancouver and helped shepherd the completion of a new robust fact sheet on beluga whales to complement their fact sheet on Tursiops. The committee is also completing work on a California sea lions fact sheet. Our Veterinary Advisory Committee lent their expertise on a number of important stranding and other issues. Our accreditation team of 24 dedicated inspectors performed 16 inspections, reaccrediting 12 member facilities and welcoming four new members to the Alliance: Dolphin Discovery Costa Maya, Dolphin Discovery Moon Palace, Dolphin Discovery Tortola, and Loro Parque Tenerife. Our Friends of the Alliance Committee continued to add new friends and garnered the highest number of annual meeting sponsorships yet.

The Alliance Board worked with Kathleen to identify the Alliance’s strategic priorities for the next several years based on the results of the member survey and the strategic planning work done in the fall of 2012 and the significant challenges in the external environment this year for our community. We conducted a much needed review of the Alliance bylaws so they can be updated and better serve us in the years ahead, and we reviewed the Alliance committee structure to identify ways we can empower and strengthen our committees to help us achieve our goals.

In 2014, the Alliance Board, Executive Director, committees, and consultants will focus on three overarching strategic priorities: advocacy, accreditation, and growth. We will initiate a multi-stakeholder advocacy effort around the benefits of marine mammals in human care to ensure that OUR story is heard. We will continue to enhance Alliance Accreditation and champion it as the preeminent accreditation for marine mammal parks and aquariums. And we will initiate a number of initiatives to strengthen and grow the Alliance community. Our committees will play a key role in this work. If you are not already active on an Alliance committee, we encourage you to join one and help.

Our success together will build a stronger community and stronger individual member organizations and enable our work to continue to inspire and educate millions of guests each year and motivate them to do their part to help conserve marine mammals and their ocean habitats.

Thank you for your continued support of the Alliance. We look forward to working with you in the year ahead.

Billy Hurley — 2013 President
Kevin Willis — 2014 President


Dear Alliance Members & Friends,

Over the past 12 months I’ve had the privilege of visiting 19 Alliance member facilities representing about a third of our membership, and two stranding centers. What I saw amazed and inspired me. Despite the diversity of our membership, whether I was visiting a large or a small facility in Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin, or Canada, I saw the same values demonstrated and the same high standards at work. I saw a community of people who are proud of and passionate about their work and incredibly good at what they do. I wish everyone could have the opportunity to see as I did:

  • The slow, precise hands of a dedicated team of expert veterinary surgeons operating on the eyes of a sea lion
  • A team of highly trained professionals giving a sonogram to a killer whale
  • A team of marine mammal veterinarians and trainers bent over the side of a pool giving hydration to one dolphin and a medical procedure to another
  • The round-the-clock monitoring of a dolphin and her newborn calf to make sure the calf was nursing and the mother was doing well and a pregnant dolphin who could deliver at any minute
  • The loving, patient and experienced hand of a trainer successfully teaching a blind seal to do things that will improve his quality of life
  • The elaborate safety protocols, measures, and equipment used to protect employees, the public, and the animals--from pool bottoms that rise to the surface in just a few seconds, to the complex design of a polar bear enclosure
  • The passion of an educator who fusses over every sign, show script, presentation, and brochure to ensure it imparts the best information about the animals and urges guests to help preserve them and care for their ocean habitat
  • The innovative ways facilities are reaching out to engage different types of visitors—from a new teen room for studying and hanging out and yoga with the dolphins and whales to exciting summer camp adventures and elaborate interactive wet labs that give visitors the opportunity to touch starfish and other sea creatures.
  • The pride and excitement of two scientists discussing the findings of their research on the behavioral responses of marine mammals to potentially entangling objects and their bioacoustics research on the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals
  • The high quality of food that is |carefully and methodically inspected, stored, prepared, tracked, and given to each animal
  • The sophisticated systems and trained personnel that go to great lengths to ensure proper water quality for the animals
  • The surprise and elation of an audience witnessing the astonishing feats of a dolphin, whale or sea lion interacting with its trainers in a show and leaving the show knowing and caring a little more about these amazing animals
  • The absolute joy on the faces of visitors of all ages as they have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact or swim with a dolphin, sea lion, beluga whale, seal, or other animal in a beautiful, safe environment under the watchful eye and instruction of experienced trainers
  • The systematic and detailed efforts of two Alliance accreditation inspectors carefully assessing how a facility measures up to the 13 areas of Alliance Standards and Guidelines, and the openness and desire for continuous improvement on the part of team members at the facility being inspected
  • And the dedicated and inspiring rescue and rehabilitation work of numerous Alliance facilities, the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center, and the Laguna Beach-based Pacific Marine Mammal Center that results each year in the saving of thousands of marine mammals who have stranded.

These and many other snapshots from my visits painted for me a vivid picture of a dynamic and big-hearted community of passionate professionals who dedicate their lives to upholding the highest standards of animal care and welfare and delight in the joy and inspiration their work brings to visitors and the enduring good it brings to the world when those visitors leave determined to do their part for conservation.

I thank the many Alliance members that opened their doors to me, arranging behind-the-scenes tours of your facilities, visits with your team members, and interactive experiences and even helping to defray the costs of my travel. My visits to your facilities enabled me to see and experience first-hand the true narrative of this community. I look forward to working with the Board, committees, and Alliance membership to seeing that that inspiring narrative is more widely told in the years ahead.

Warm regards,
Kathleen Dezio — Executive Director


The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA), also referred to as “the Alliance,” is an international association representing marine life parks, aquariums, zoos, research facilities, and professional organizations dedicated to the highest standards of care for marine mammals and to their conservation in the wild through public education, scientific study, and wildlife presentations. It was founded in 1987 and is based in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. Collectively, the Alliance membership represents the greatest body of experience and knowledge about marine mammal care and husbandry.

The Alliance is the first and largest organization in the U.S. or abroad dedicated to the concerns and issues that affect the public display of marine mammals. The most commonly exhibited species in Alliance member facilities are dolphins, beluga and killer whales, sea lions and seals.

The Alliance administers a stringent accreditation process for its members. Accredited members must uphold Alliance Standards and Guidelines to optimize the psychological and physical health of, and environmental conditions for, individual marine mammals under their care, and to maximize the educational and scientific value of their collections as a whole.

Education is a top priority of Alliance members, who are committed to programming aimed at teachers, children, and adults. These programs enhance the experience of seeing living animals with exhibits, displays, programs, publications, and other learning tools. Education programs provide opportunities for visitors to learn about marine mammal biology and natural history and become more aware of, and sensitive toward, the marine environment. They also address important marine conservation issues and engender a strong, active commitment to marine mammal conservation for which the public must ultimately shoulder the responsibility.

Alliance member collaborations have continually enhanced the success of dolphin and whale reproduction as members share information and provide technical assistance important to reproduction management. When requested, the Alliance also facilitates partnering agreements between individual members to enhance breeding and genetic diversity.

The Alliance promotes research that benefits the health and well-being of both the marine mammals thriving in public display facilities and those in the wild. Knowledge acquired through research using husbandry data from animals in accredited public display facilities, in tandem with field research, is essential to marine mammal conservation and one of the most effective ways of ensuring the health of wild marine mammal populations in the 21st Century.

The Alliance supports the voluntary participation of its members in activities aimed at:

  • Rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing stranded marine mammals
  • Providing homes to animals that are deemed non-releasable, and
  • Collecting stranded animal data, which is a significant source of information on the natural history, health, and status of wild populations.

Caring for stranded marine mammals is a critical commitment, and the accumulated knowledge, collective experience and resources of Alliance facilities are the primary factors in the many successful rehabilitation efforts each year.

A valuable resource for its members and the media, the Alliance serves as an expert, authoritative thirdparty media source on behalf of the international marine mammal community and develops background papers, talking points, and other e-communication tools on issues common to marine mammals in human care.

The Alliance also helps its members speak with one united, international voice on legislative, regulatory, and policy issues and provides comments and strategic recommendations on government proposals around the world.


To assist the public, tour operators, cruise lines, and travel agents in selecting zoological parks and aquariums that place the highest priority on their dolphins’ health and welfare, the Alliance developed and launched last year a new International Code of Best Practices for Dolphin Facilities. Based on Alliance Standards & Guidelines, it reflects the best available science and draws on the decades-long experience and expertise of the dedicated professionals who work for these facilities.

This International Code of Best Practices for Dolphin Facilities promotes best practices in animal care, environmental quality, training, education programming, scientific advancement, responsible in-water interactive programs, and the conservation of dolphins in the wild. While it is optimal and preferred that all public marine mammal facilities be accredited by the Alliance, this International Code of Best Practices provides a benchmark against which facilities that have not yet sought accreditation might be measured.

Cruise lines and tour operators have already begun to utilize the Code, and the Alliance Business Concepts Committee is working with the Alliance Board and Executive Director to promote it to other travel organizations seeking guidance on how to discern high quality, responsible dolphin facilities.


The Alliance acts as a powerful advocate on behalf of its members, both within the U.S. and globally. Here are a few of the important issues on which the association worked on behalf of our community over the past year.



Over the last five years, Alliance members alone coordinated more than 57,000 volunteer hours responding to and caring for stranded marine mammals, often doing so at their own expense. Last June, when funding was threatened for the only grant program that helps Alliance members and others offset the substantial costs of their stranding work, the Alliance sent letters to members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries & Coast Guard, the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, and the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee highlighting the importance of the program and urging them not to discontinue or cut funding for it.

The Alliance also disseminated a template letter for use by Alliance members interested in writing on their own. Later in June, Alliance Past President Mark Swingle, Alliance Executive Director Kathleen Dezio, and attorney George Mannina spent two days on Capitol Hill talking with key committee staff about the need to keep funding for the program intact. They also met with NMFS officials to discuss funding for the grants.

Although the continuing resolution environment in Washington made this effort more difficult, we were heartened to see that when the Senate CJS bill was reported, it contained this language on Prescott:

Protected Species Research and Management.—The Committee rejects the administration’s proposal to terminate the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program and provides sufficient funding for Prescott grants within the Marine Mammal Protection account. In awarding such grants, the Committee directs NOAA to consider geographic equity among stranding regions, the size of marine mammal populations inhabiting a geographic area within such a region, and established records for rescuing or rehabilitating sick and stranded marine mammals in a particular stranding region.

The House CJS bill also contained similar language:

Protected Species Research and Management—The Committee recommends $167,000,000 for Protected Species Research and Management programs, including $38,000,000 for base programs. Within available resources, the Committee encourages NOAA to maintain funding for marine mammal stranding grants. The Committee includes $9,000,000 for species recovery to consolidate funding for species recovery activities, including salmon, in this account.

Alliance Files Comments with NMFS Opposing PETA Petition to List Lolita in the ESA

Last summer the Alliance filed comments in support of Miami Seaquarium and opposing a PETA petition to list killer whale Lolita in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In response to PETA’s petition, NMFS has now issued a proposed rule to list Lolita as part of a protected class in the ESA. The Alliance and a number of its members again filed comments with NMFS in March 2014, this time on the proposed rule, urging the agency not to list Lolita in the ESA. If the agency does list Lolita, Jay Sweeney VMD, chair of the Alliance Veterinary Advisory Committee, told the agency that the proposed re-location of Lolita to a sea pen somewhere along the Pacific Coast of Washington or British Columbia would not be in the best interest of the 50-year-old whale and could jeopardize her health or life.

Alliance Urges USDA/APHIS to Reject Petition to Amend Regulations to Prohibit Public Contact with Certain Species of Animals

The Humane Society of the U.S. and seven other organizations filed a petition with USDA/APHIS to amend Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations to prohibit public contact with big cats, bears, and nonhuman primates. In response, the Alliance submitted comments opposing the petition and urging the agency to leave to the discretion of trained animal care experts the determination of which animals are appropriate for participation in public contact programs and under what circumstances. To do otherwise, the Alliance argued, would set an unfortunate precedent that could threaten interactive programs with a wide range of other animals in the future.


Alliance Supports Changes in Draft Language of a Florida bill Florida

Representative Travis Hutson (FL District 24) drafted a bill, HB 637, that would have adversely impacted Alliance Florida facilities and all other animalrelated enterprises in the state. A similar bill was introduced in California a few years ago but did not pass.

The Alliance emailed Florida members to alert them to the problematic language in the draft bill, encouraged them to call their representatives, and provided talking points outlining the problem areas of the bill.

The troublesome language was removed from the bill.


Alliance Submits Comments and Scientific Resources to Ontario Panel Examining the “Benefits and Deleterious Effects” of Cetaceans in Human Care

The Government of Ontario convened a committee early this year to examine the “benefits and deleterious effects of keeping cetaceans in captivity in non-research facilities”. The Alliance assembled a list of scientific references for the committee and submitted comments, which can be found in the members only section of the Alliance website.

Alliance Maintains European Presence

The Alliance maintained its presence in Brussels with a registered office, ensuring its continuing international character for purposes of participating in multilateral conventions and meetings and providing a credible basis for action in Europe in cooperation with the European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM). Concluding a threeyear process in which Niels van Elk, Dolfinarium Harderwijk, served as its representative, the Alliance Brussels office provided comments on the final version of the newly revised guidelines for the keeping of mammals in Germany and assisted in preparing responses to parliamentary questions to counter a proposed ban on dolphinaria.

Finally, through its International Counsel, the Alliance participated in the bi-annual meetings of the Institutional Members of the EAAM and the EAAM’s related research symposium (Nuremberg, March and Edinburgh, September) to promote information exchange and collaboration.


Alliance Participates in CITES Conference

In March 2013 the Alliance participated at its third Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) (The Hague, 2007; Doha, 2010; and Bangkok, 2013) and also achieved accreditation as an International Non-Governmental Organization. Working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Alliance successfully garnered opposition to the adoption of a resolution that would have redefined the “purpose codes,” which categorize the reason for requested CITES permits in a way that could have restricted parks’ abilities to import and export animals. It supported the adoption of new CITES Transport Guidelines created by the Transport Working Group in which the Alliance played a key role. The new CITES Guidelines incorporate the IATA Live Animal Regulations for air transport which were brought in line with Alliance best practices in 2012. At the meeting, the Alliance also supported the adoption of decisions that exclude coral sand, coral fragments, urine, and feces from CITES controls.

Alliance Helps Draft Strategic Plan for Convention on Migratory Species

In 2013, the Alliance continued to monitor the activities of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and, as a CMS Partner, was invited to participate in the development of a draft strategic plan for CMS. In addition, the Alliance tracked developments of relevance to the marine mammal community in the European Union (EU), including proposals for a new EU-wide animal health law (agreement anticipated in 2014) and a potentially wide-reaching animal welfare law (to be tabled in 2014).



For Alliance members, 2013 will be remembered as a challenging year, but also as a year that presented unique opportunities to educate the public on the various ways in which we provide extraordinary care for and uphold our responsibility to marine mammals throughout the world.

This was a year in which our community gained a fresh realization of the importance of being proactive in telling our story to the public and to key stakeholders. Several steps were taken to move the Alliance in this direction, including:

  • A two-day summit at PCI’s headquarters in Chicago to explore ways in which Alliance internal and external communications can be enhanced, including revamped structure and responsibilities for a new Communications Committee
  • A new member newsletter, distributed in an easy-toaccess, timely and informative e-news digest format, plus an Alliance Legislative, Legal and Regulatory Update to keep members informed of important developments in these areas.
  • Initiating a process to redesign the Alliance website, creating a platform that has a new, vibrant look, easier navigation, and robust content to help us effectively share information about the many benefits of marine mammals in human care
  • A new framework to make Alliance communications with members faster and easier

Of course, it would be impossible to discuss communications events in 2013 without a focus on the Blackfish controversy, but we can do so with a sense of pride in terms of how well the Alliance responded to the various distortions and omissions in the film.

As we know, the film Blackfish received considerable attention after it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival and then picked up for widespread distribution. CNN played a leading role in promoting the movie. Blackfish purports to be a fact-based documentary, but as Alliance members well know, it is riddled with inaccuracies and exploits the tragic 2010 death of dedicated SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. Without a reasonable foundation of fact or science, the film claims that marine mammals do not thrive in our parks and wrongly challenges the public’s right to experience and learn from killer whales and, by extension, other marine mammals in our facilities.

The film also deliberately chooses to ignore the essential role killer whales and other marine mammals play in the public education, conservation, and research that accredited zoological facilities perform -- research that directly benefits animals in the wild. Blackfish also fails to acknowledge SeaWorld’s significant contributions to the conservation of marine mammals worldwide.

The Alliance’s commitment and determination to inform the public of the facts was admirable and effective. In anticipation of the film’s theatrical release, Alliance members met via a series of conference calls and called on several key communications professionals from within the marine mammal community to help draft the organization’s response to the film. The Alliance distributed a key messages document and talking points to members who requested guidance on an appropriate response to guest or media inquiries, ensuring that we had a consistent and cohesive message throughout the membership.

Once the film aired nationwide on CNN on October 24, Meghann Gibbons -- representing both the Alliance and Georgia Aquarium -- served as an initial conduit to CNN’s news division. As it became clear that CNN intended to promote the movie in its news programming, the Alliance broadened its focus and worked closely with many communications professionals in our community to develop a strategic and coordinated response across multiple CNN programs. This helped ensure that the Alliance and its members had a unified voice in the debate that resulted from the film.

There were ripple effects from Blackfish, and the Alliance community responded with success. The annual “Empty the Tanks” day was billed by its organizers as an orchestrated worldwide effort to rally protestors to appear at Alliance member facilities to call for an end to human care for cetaceans. The Alliance identified the member facilities that were targeted, and key messages and talking points were drafted and disseminated to those affected institutions. In the end, turnout for the protests was lackluster, local media coverage was relatively minimal, and Alliance members were able to utilize the developed communications messages to provide responses to media inquiries.

Another communications challenge came in August. More than 14 months after Georgia Aquarium had submitted its application for a permit to import beluga whales from Russia (and more than nine months following the close of the public comment period on the application), the aquarium received word that NOAA had declined to issue the necessary permit to bring the whales to the United States as one of the key components in Georgia Aquarium’s beluga conservation initiative.

In its decision document, the federal agency stated that the aquarium had met most, but not every, requirement set forth under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Georgia Aquarium strongly disagreed with this finding. Alliance members mobilized quickly -- since virtually no notice was given prior to the agency’s release of this decision – and a NOAA finding like this one could have ramifications for all Alliance members’ conservation efforts. Comprehensive information on the application and the agency decision was rapidly developed and disseminated, making it available for Alliance members’ use in discussing the issue with staff and guests.

When Georgia Aquarium subsequently filed a legal complaint in U.S. District Court to request a judicial review of the decision (the only recourse available under the MMPA), the Alliance was engaged in creating messaging documents, focusing on the potential impact on all Alliance members and their ongoing efforts to strengthen marine mammal conservation. A court hearing is pending.

Activities like these underscore the importance of the work performed by the many Alliance communications professionals and talented spokespersons who work closely with the Executive Director, public relations counsel, Friends of the Alliance, and Public Communications, Inc. (PCI). Their dedicated efforts ensure tthe Alliance’s voice is heard in the public discourse about marine mammals in human care. Alliance members also shared important stories in the media and on their websites about who we are and what we do to provide the very best care for our animals. No meaningful discussion about the value and importance of marine mammals in human care can be had without the voices of dedicated animal care experts, who are the true advocates for marine mammals.

Looking to the future, the Alliance Communications Committee, chaired by Scott Higley, is developing plans for a comprehensive, proactive communications offensive that will create an even stronger community voice in 2014 and beyond.


The Alliance works to provide reporters with timely news and information on important issues related to marine mammals in human care. Alliance experts and spokespersons represent the Alliance in interviews with print, broadcast and online media outlets.. These are a few examples from 2013:

  • Following CNN’s initial airing of the film Blackfish on Oct. 24, CNN hosted a live 30-minute panel with the directorproducer Gabriela Cowperthwaite and Dr. Naomi Rose, with the Animal Welfare Institute. Countering the two were Alliance and IMATA past President Billy Hurley and Jack Hanna, director-emeritus of the Columbus Zoo.
  • CNN also aired news programming around the broadcast of the film. The Alliance Communications Committee, Public Communications Inc., a Chicago-based public relations firm, and a number of member institutions worked to provide CNN with experts for interviews on a number of shows. As a result, interviews with Dr. Grey Stafford of Wildlife World Zoo, Dr. Gregory Bossart of Georgia Aquarium, Ken Ramirez of Shedd Aquarium, and others ran on various CNN shows throughout the week.
  • Billy Hurley represented the Alliance perspective on the Japanese drive fishery on Al Jazeera program America Tonight with Joey Chen.
  • Billy also spoke with The Miami Herald on behalf of the Alliance about the recent National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed rule to list Miami Seaquarium’s killer whale, Lolita, in the Endangered Species Act.
  • Kevin Willis represented the Alliance in an interview with the Georgia Straight, a Vancouver-based newspaper, about the welfare of marine mammals in human care.
  • During the year, Alliance Executive Director Kathleen Dezio spoke with reporters from a range of other outlets, including the BBC, CBS News, the Baltimore Sun, Scientific American, NPR, San Diego News, and The Miami Herald.
  • The Alliance sent a letter to the editor to Readers Digest about an article by Lori Marino that appears in the February 2014 edition titled, “Sorry, Dolphins Aren’t Smiling”. While the topic of Marino’s piece was false claims made about the benefits of Dolphin Assisted Therapy, it also included a number of false claims about the welfare of dolphins in facilities such as those accredited by the Alliance.



The importance of making certain the public, and those who help shape public opinion, understand the many things Alliance members do to protect and advocate for marine mammals is more important than ever.

In 2012, school systems in 16 states began incorporating a new concept called Humane Education into their curriculums as a means of teaching children to be kind to each other and kind to animals. Teaching about kindness to animals is something Alliance members do every day, so Alliance educators have been working to identify opportunities to provide information and resources to universities and others about our community’s humane education work and how we strive to inspire our guests to help protect and conserve these amazing animals and their ocean habitat.

To ensure accuracy and consistency in the educational information our members share about the animals themselves, the Alliance is expanding its portfolio of animal fact sheets. The Bottlenose Dolphin fact sheet was finished several years ago, and this year a new beluga fact sheet was completed. Another fact sheet on the California Sea Lion is near completion. Drawing on the expertise of the Veterinary Advisory Committee, the Alliance Education Committee, chaired by Terran McGinnis, oversees these efforts.

Alliance educators held their annual Education Committee meeting in 2013 at the Vancouver Aquarium to share information, resources and best practices. It was deemed by all participants to be one of the most productive and successful meetings to date, and it marked an Education Committee first by including representatives from the Alliance Communications Committee as well. The 2014 meeting will be held in San Diego, the 2015 meeting will be held in Cancun, and the 2016 meeting will be held in Atlanta.



As the Alliance continues to grow and its members stay on the cutting edge of marine mammal care and science, we continue to raise the bar in terms of what is expected of the association and our member institutions. This is reflected in the continuous updates to the Alliance Standards and Guidelines.

In the past 12 months, the Allliance performed re-accreditation inspections and evaluations on 12 Alliance facilities including Dolfinarium Harderwijk, Sarkanniemi Adventure Park, Georgia Aquarium, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, SeaWorld San Antonio, Dolphin Quest Oahu, Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Theater of the Sea, Dolphin Connection, SeaWorld Orlando, Disney Living Seas and Miami Seaquarium. Inspectors also performed accreditation inspections and evaluations on four new member facilities: Dolphin Discovery Costa Maya, Dolphin Discovery Moon Palace, Dolphin Discovery Tortola, and Loro Parque Tenerife.

The 2014 rotation for Alliance inspections/accreditations includes the Minnesota Zoo, Gulf World Marine Park, Sea Life Park Vallarta, Dolphin Experience, Dolphin Encounters, and Dolphin Research Center. The new member inspections for 2014 will be Dolphin Cove, Dolphin Discovery Playa Del Carmen, and Dolphin Discovery Anguilla.

Alliance inspectors have begun enhancing their descriptions of what they see during the facility evaluation, helping the Board gain a better understanding of each inspected facility and facilitating a stronger, clearer evaluation document. More than threequarters of Alliance applicants are also IMATA-accredited. The Accreditation Committee, chaired by Bill Winhall, encourages facilities that are Alliance-accredited to also become IMATA-accredited. In most cases, inspections for both can be completed at the same time.

The 24 outstanding inspectors for the 2013 season included: Shelley Ballmann, Patrick Berry, Dave Blasko, Mark Boucher, Michelle Campbell, Dennis Christen, Dave Denardo, Robert Eiser, Eric Gaglione, Mark Galan, William (Chip) Harshaw, Bill Hughes, Billy Hurley, Scott Klappenback, Mike Muraco, Mike Osborn, Eric Otjen, Tom Otten, Dave Roberts, Kevin Roberts, Jim Robinett, Grey Stafford, Don Tremel, and Accreditations Committee Chair Bill Winhall.


The Friends of the Alliance is a select group of outstanding companies recommended by our members that represent the highest quality of goods and services in their individual areas of expertise. This sponsorship program provides a unique opportunity for these organizations to be recognized by and connect with the Alliance membership throughout the year and at the Alliance Annual Meeting.



Veterinary science is a continually evolving field, and Alliance members are continually seeking to expand knowledge on how to best promote the well-being of the marine mammals in our care. In 2013, there were numerous exemplary cases that demonstrated the Alliance’s commitment to animal health and conservation.

CA Sea Otter Strandings and Pup Disposition Concerned about the reported euthanasia of a stranded sea otter pup, the Alliance Veterinary Advisory Committee, chaired by Jay Sweeney, reached out to the Marine Mammal Center and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A proposal was made to move Northern sea otters to international facilities, thus freeing up capacity at U.S. parks and aquariums. More discussion with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services is needed on this important issue.

IAAAM Meeting on Non-Releasable Rehabilitated Sea Lions In the wake of the California sea lion Unusual Mortality Event (UME), a major breakthrough was achieved during the International Association of Aquatic Animal Medicine (IAAAM) meeting. The group determined that each stranding center’s veterinarian can now determine whether sea lions in their care are releasable, based on either medical or behavior reasons.

Cetaceans in Captivity in Ontario, Canada The Alliance provided comments to a panel convened by the Government of Ontario to study the “benefits and deleterious effects” of having cetaceans in human care. Comments submitted from the Alliance included a summary of the extensive scientific literature available on this subject, and emphasized the value of public education imparted by parks and aquariums to hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Switzerland Ban on Cetaceans in Human Care After the Swiss government banned cetaceans in human care following the deaths of two dolphins at Connyland, the Alliance reviewed the recommendations of a Swiss dolphin welfare working group and found the group used information from the 1980s and that allegations of veterinary malpractice were inappropriately made in a national legislative forum and not via any veterinary medical association or court of law.

The Vision of a Hawaii-based Pacific Cetacean Institute The Alliance Veterinary Advisory Committee has been involved in discussions on the development of a multi-disciplinary institute for cetacean studies in Hawaii. The institute would be built on three pillars, including live stranding response, response to deceased animals, and cetacean population biology. Discussions on making this vision a reality are ongoing.



In 2013, an “Unusual Mortality Event” (UME) occurred along the Pacific coast of California, resulting in more than 2,000 stranded California sea lions. The majority of the stranded animals were yearlings, although some neonates were recorded. The cause is still uncertain, but it has been suggested that changes in currents and weather patterns forced the primary food source off shore, which was out of the range for the younger animals.

SeaWorld San Diego cared for 342 rescued sea lion pups during this event. Of these, 38 pups stranded more than once. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA, assisted stranding networks by holding non-releasable pups until permanent homes could be assigned by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Approximately 20 animals were placed in U.S. zoological facilities. Many Alliance facilities offered support in the form of financial assistance and supplies. Several vendors, including fish suppliers and shipping companies, offered products and services gratis or at a substantially reduced rate.

Thanks to Alliance members, the severity of the UME was lessened and many animals were saved.


Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are the most common cetaceans sighted in coastal waters of the U.S. Mid-Atlantic coast. They are also the most commonly stranded marine mammals in this region. Beginning in July of 2013, elevated numbers of dolphin strandings began occurring along the coast from New York through Virginia. As the months progressed, high numbers of dolphin strandings were experienced as far south as Florida. By the end of 2013, nearly 1,100 bottlenose dolphin strandings had been recorded along the coast. NMFS declared this an unusual mortality event (UME) in August 2013. The primary cause was determined to be a virus known as cetacean morbillivirus.

Stranding response and data collection from the marine mammal stranding network were crucial to the identification and ongoing evaluation of this bottlenose dolphin UME, the largest mortality event ever recorded for a cetacean species. Alliance member facilities were instrumental in the response. The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Georgia Aquarium Field Conservation Station, and Mystic Aquarium performed essential roles. Virginia Aquarium stranding numbers (345 bottlenose dolphins) were the highest in recorded history for the state and represented more than 30% of total strandings for the entire UME. The UME was first identified as a result of stranding reports from Virginia and states north to New York. Georgia Aquarium Field Conservation Station was involved in response to more than 45 dolphin strandings in the last quarter of 2013 and the UME continued into 2014, progressing into their area of north Florida. Mystic Aquarium provided key staff for the Incident Command System that was established to coordinate and manage coast wide response to the UME.

Studies associated with the vast amount of data and samples collected will continue to help researchers better understand the impact of these mortalities on coastal bottlenose dolphin stocks. In addition, the unprecedented level of mortalities has provided a wealth of potential data for further understanding the life history of these iconic marine mammals.



The Chicago Zoological Society marine mammal staff hand reared a dolphin calf that was born in October 2013. They continue to do round-the-clock care of the male calf that has been progressing well.

It was an award-winning year for Delphinus, which was presented with the Ecological Trajectory Award by the state government of Quintana Roo in the category “Sustainable Enterprises”. The facility was honored for its ongoing efforts in the field of environmental education and conservation. Delphinus was also recognized by the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Federal Ministry of Public Education for Education-Business Collaboration with second place in the category “University- Level Professional Development and Employment”. The award was given for a collaborative agreement with the Mexican University UNAM/School of Veterinarian and Zoological Medicine. The facility’s commitment to the environment was further spotlighted in their creation and sponsorship of the Mexican Caribbean Oceans’ Fest.

Through long-standing partnerships with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program and the National Marine Mammal Foundation, Dolphin Connection has actively sponsored in situ conservation projects concerned with the health and welfare of wild dolphin populations. Increasingly aware that it is the health of the entire marine ecosystem that needs focus, Dolphin Connection strengthened its educational commitment toward the reduction of ocean plastics this year. Classroom communication strategies emphasize facts concerning ocean plastics, and the importance and power of individual responsibility, instilling the concept that every person can make a positive contribution toward ocean health. Educational displays promoting the use of refillable and recyclable water bottles, and graphics depicting biodegradation timelines provide supportive visuals. Expansion of the Dolphin Connection website highlights numerous opportunities for individual involvement, features a Florida Keys ecological exploration game, and a trivia challenge to test visitors’ knowledge. Guest input through evaluations and opportunities to share their inspiration will assist in measuring the overall impact for ocean conservation.

The Dolphin Discovery Group is proud of the advances made in the health and well-being of their amazing marine mammals. The Miracle breeding program stems from the passion and commitment of the entire team that works on a daily basis to preserve the species under their care and to increase the industry and public´s knowledge of their reproductive cycle. Their goal has been to improve their own understanding of all phases of their lives from inception through adulthood thereby achieving a better environment for the current mammals and for future generations born in their locations.

Given the great success of their human-assisted marine mammal breeding program, implemented in 2002, they currently have 86 first- and second-generation marine mammals: 70 dolphins, 12 sea lions, 4 manatees, and currently have destinations where all of their dolphins were born under human care!

Dolphin Explorer in Punta, Cana, Dominican Republic, has started to investigate skin disease in South American sea lions. The primary investigator is their consultant veterinarian, Dr. Tom Reidarson, DVM. Dr. Reidarson is collecting data from several facilities that house this species, comparing skin diseases to similar conditions observed in other species, both in human care and in the wild state, and attempting to identify effective treatments.

Dolphin Research Center, Grassy Key, FL, enjoyed terrific media exposure thanks to Associated Press stories on its published research about Switching Strategies: A Dolphin’s Use of Passive and Active Acoustics to Imitate Motor Actions, its College of Marine Mammal Professions and its special care of geriatric animals. The stories moved internationally in print, online, and in video.

Dolphin Quest, Oahu, recently teamed with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Texas A&M to collect groundbreaking data that will directly improve how dolphins in the wild are studied. Scientists regularly use dataloggers, temporarily attached by suction to wild dolphins, which provide a great deal of information on the animals. The studies at Dolphin Quest tested the drag caused by these devices and will help researchers understand whether and how much the animals’ behavior and physical ability might be affected and what the energetic cost might be to the animal. The results of the study will help scientists generate better data from the tags and could help them better understand the impacts of drag from entanglements in fishing gear. Due to the level of environmental control and animal participation needed to conduct this research, it would have been impossible to collect this same data in the wild.

Members from a broad cross-section of the regional scientific community gathered at Georgia Aquarium for the first Georgia Aquarium Research Symposium, a two-day program of talks exploring the contribution of aquarium scientists and their academic partners to scientific knowledge since the aquarium opened in 2005. Over 90 delegates from the regional scientific community attended, representing institutions such as the U.S. National Oceanic and U.S. Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Emory University, Georgia Tech, Florida Atlantic University, University of Georgia and many others. The Symposium opened with a plenary talk by Aquarium board member and former NOAA chief administrator Dr. Conrad Lautenbacher, who spoke about the many challenges facing the health and conservation of the world’s oceans. Admiral Lautenbacher’s talk established a One Health theme that pervaded many of the other talks and has emerged as a unique research strength for Georgia Aquarium. One Health is a conceptual framework that recognizes that animal health, environmental health, and human health are ultimately all connected and that research on one can inform the others. It is anticipated that the Research Symposium will become a regular event in the future as staff and partners of the Georgia Aquarium Research Center continue to explore the biology, and especially the health, of species and ecosystems represented in the Georgia Aquarium collection.

In October 2013, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), a state run agency, held an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day, the first event of its kind in the Florida Panhandle. This event offered local pet owners the opportunity to safely surrender animals they could no longer care for as a responsible alternative to letting the animal go and potentially introducing nonnative species into the Florida ecosystem. Free to the public, patrons visited live animal displays from several local exotic pet organizations to learn about safe pet ownership and the hazards of invasive species. Gulfarium and FWC succeeded in finding adopters for all of the surrendered exotic species, including birds, reptiles, and small mammals.

Former Marineland Dolphin Adventure SEA camper, 11-year-old Natasha, suffered a traumatic brain injury from a fall off of a horse late last summer. Her mother, Nanette, was by her side as she began losing her pulse and was rushed to the local children’s hospital. After several long weeks, Natasha made a miraculous recovery. Her family credits her passion and love for dolphins, especially those at Marineland Dolphin Adventure, as her major motivator. Nanette and the hospital staff noticed positive changes in Natasha’s condition whenever they spoke to her about the dolphins she loved at Marineland Dolphin Adventure. Her hospital room was covered in pictures of dolphins, and a staff member at Marineland even Facetimed with Natasha to show her the dolphins to help give her spirit a boost. Nanette promised her daughter they would take her to see the dolphins once she got better (including Nellie, a favorite of Natasha’s who celebrated her remarkable 60th birthday during Marineland’s 75th anniversary earlier in the year). After Natasha’s release, family and friends (including some of the hospital staff who nursed her back to health) gathered at Marineland to celebrate Natasha’s recovery and watch as she reunited with her beloved dolphins. Natasha’s passion for animals and the ocean could not have been formed without her experience at Marineland Dolphin Adventure, and she represents children everywhere who are inspired by the educational experience they receive at zoos and aquariums.

In 2014 Miami Seaquarium, the original film location of the popular TV series ‘Flipper’, is commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the television program’s first broadcast with a year-long celebration tagged, “A Year Full of Wonder”. The festivities include the debut of a new Flipper Dolphin Show and an historic display of images and nostalgia from the TV show at the entrance of the Flipper stadium.

‘Flipper’ the TV show, which first aired on the NBC network in 1964, forever changed our awareness of marine mammals and how we interact with them. In the TV show Flipper frequently “saved the day” by helping his human companions. To commemorate Flipper’s good deeds, Miami Seaquarium is encouraging everyone to ‘Flip It Forward’ through random acts of kindness. www.miamiseaquarium.com/ flipitforward provides details on how everyone can get involved in creating a more caring community. Miami Seaquarium encourages everyone to ‘Flip It Forward’ to celebrate the Year of Flipper.

Oceans of Fun, a pinniped facility specializing in interactive learning opportunities with seals and sea lions, assisted the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Sausalito, CA, this past fall by providing a permanent home to an orphaned male California sea lion pup. The two-month-old malnourished and dehydrated pup’s mother was nowhere to be found. Because he was too young to eat fish, the pup was deemed nonreleasable. Responding to the call for help, Oceans of Fun flew a training team out to California in order to provide round-the-clock care and arrange for transportation back to Milwaukee, WI where the young pup would make his new home. This lucky little pup, now named “Nalu” for “Ocean Wave,” is an ambassador for others in the wild, teaching children and adults about ocean health, conservation, and marine mammal care.

Ocean Park, Hong Kong, continues to expand their conservation and advocacy work, supporting research efforts on the critically endangered Yangtze River Finless Porpoise. The work involved a five-day seminar working with the porpoises both under human care and those left in the river system. The Park is also now in its seventh year of a longitudinal project with National University of Singapore, researching the echolocation capabilities of Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins. The Park and its Foundation continue to manage Hong Kong’s only cetacean stranding response team, which handled 28 stranding cases in the past year involving Indo- Pacific humpback dolphins and Indo-Pacific finless porpoises.

Through conservation support and environmental education programs, SeaWorld is inspiring the next generation of conservation stewards. The SeaWorld parks have always been committed to conservation, with a focus on rescue and rehabilitation of injured, ill or orphaned marine animals and financial support of worldwide conservation initiatives. In addition to the millions spent through SeaWorld’s rescue and rehabilitation program each year, the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund reached a significant milestone with over $10 million distributed to conservation projects and organizations over the past decade. The parks also inspired record numbers of youth through their education programs, with over 200,000 students visiting SeaWorld through standards-based instructional field trips, and thousands more each summer in camp programs.

The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot is now home to Lil Joe, a manatee who was first rescued in 1989 as an orphaned calf in Volusia County, Florida. Lil Joe joins Lou, another rescued manatee, at The Seas. The Walt Disney World Resort participates in the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership. Manatees are one of the many species that have received support from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF). Since 1995, the DWCF has contributed nearly $24 million to more than 330 nonprofit organizations across more than half of the world.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom welcomed a female bottlenose dolphin calf in January 2014. In the latter months of the gestation period, the nine-year-old female, Bella, was observed whistling when alone. It was determined that she, in fact, was communicating to her fetus. Bella is the first dolphin to be recorded and observed communicating to her unborn fetus in the months prior to delivery. The same whistle is being heard now with Bella and her offspring, named Mirabella, showing a personal mother-baby communication that is being documented for further study. This data suggests that fetal dolphins may imprint on the mother’s whistles while in the womb; this could help ensure the calf knows which dolphin is “mom” after birth.

This would be one of the first studies showing that fetal dolphins can hear ambient noise. Ocean noise pollution is a major threat to marine mammals that rely on sensitive hearing to survive. Experts may be able to use this data to show that not only the adult dolphins are affected by the noise, but also potentially fetal and newborn babies. Additionally, too much noise could negatively impact mother and calf vocal bonding.

After more than five months of veterinary treatment at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver, Levi, a rescued harbor porpoise, was released back into his natural habitat in Saanich Inlet. In March 2013, he’d been found stranded and suffering from a large, lung-parasite infection, possible hearing loss, and other severe health problems caused by the stranding. The veterinary team treated the infection and worked intensely with him to regain his strength through physiotherapy. By late summer, he began to display marked improvements by swimming on his own and foraging for live fish. Tests showed that his hearing issues had resolved. Historically, only 10% of stranded cetaceans from the Pacific coast survive and are successfully rehabilitated for release. Levi was the first harbor porpoise successfully rehabilitated at the Rescue Centre and released. The event represents a leap forward in Vancouver Aquarium’s rehabilitation program.

Alliance Members

Organizational and Research Members

Alaska SeaLife Center
Atlantis, Paradise Island
CZS Brookfield Zoo
Delphinus Dreams Cancun
Delphinus Riviera Maya
Delphinus Xcaret
Delphinus Xel-Há
Discovery Cove
Disney’s Animal Programs at The Seas
Dolphin Connection
Dolphin Discovery Costa Maya
Dolphin Discovery Cozumel
Dolphin Discovery Grand Cayman
Dolphin Discovery Isla Mujeres
Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos
Dolphin Discovery Moon Palace
Dolphin Discovery Puerto Aventuras
Dolphin Discovery Six Flags Mexico
Dolphin Discovery Tortola, Loro Parque
Dolphin Discovery Vallarta
Dolphin Encounters
UNEXSO Dolphin Experience
Dolphin Explorer
Dolphin Quest Bermuda
Dolphin Quest Hawaii
Dolphin Quest Oahu
Dolphin Research Center
Georgia Aquarium
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
Gulf World Marine Park
Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute
Lisbon Zoo
Marineland Dolphin Adventure
Miami Seaquarium
Minnesota Zoological Gardens
The Mirage Dolphin Habitat
Moorea Dolphin Center
National Marine Mammal Foundation
Navy Marine Mammal Program
Ocean Park Hong Kong
Oceans of Fun
Pittsburgh Zoo
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
SAIC BioSolutions Division
Sea Life Park Hawaii
SeaWorld Orlando
SeaWorld San Antonio
SeaWorld San Diego
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Tampereen Sarkanniemi Oy
Theater of the Sea
Vancouver Aquarium
Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation
WCS New York Aquarium
Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium
Zoomarine Italy
Zoomarine Portugal

Professional Members

American Veterinary Medical Association
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums
European Association for Aquatic Mammals
International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine
International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association


Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums
The Alliance is headquartered in the U.S.
and has an office in the European Union


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