Animal Protection Groups Petition Federal Government to Regulate Dolphin Petting Pools

Plymouth, MA. (RPRN) 7/07/2009—The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and its partners — including The Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute, Born Free USA, World Society for the Protection of Animals and Cetacean Society International — today filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to put a stop to the unnecessary exploitation of dolphins in amusement parks by prohibiting dolphin attractions known as “petting pools,” where members of the public can touch and feed dolphins for a nominal fee.

The Petition claims that APHIS fails to adequately regulate petting pools despite the human health and animal welfare risks associated with them. WDCS requests that APHIS take action to address the dangers of these attractions in keeping with its mandate under the Animal Welfare Act to ensure the humane treatment and care of animals used in public display, while also protecting public health and safety.

In March 2003, WDCS and The HSUS released a campaign report, Biting the Hand that Feeds, exposing the risks associated with dolphin petting pools, and the groups have been monitoring them ever since. Meetings were held with regulatory authorities, and investigations were conducted as a result of the information outlined in this report. The report illustrated the unsafe, unsanitary and overcrowded conditions of petting pools in which many captive bottlenose dolphins are forced to live. Petting pools are often found in facilities with dolphin shows.

Currently, regulations exist for the humane handling and care of captive dolphins in public display facilities, but no special regulations exist for these unique attractions. Specific regulations governing dolphin interactive programs, such as swim-with-the-dolphin and wading programs, were suspended in April 1999. Confusion about the types of attraction they sought to regulate and resistance from captive dolphin facilities led APHIS to pull the regulations and launch a series of public comment periods and internal policy review initiated in 2002. Although these dolphin interaction regulations are pending, APHIS has indicated that they will again exclude dolphin petting pools from the special oversight and regulation that these interactive regulations will provide.

“The regulations addressing swim-with-the-dolphin programs that were published in 1998, and that were later repealed in 1999 under controversy, specifically excluded dolphin feeding and petting pools. We see that the wealth of evidence we have provided over the past decade has done little to change APHIS’ hands-off approach on this issue. We hope that this petition will finally document the case against petting pools, and at a minimum, the need for specific regulations addressing the risks inherent in these attractions,” stated Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for WDCS.

“Dolphins are predators. Petting pools turn them into little more than beggars,” said Naomi Rose, Ph.D., marine mammal biologist for The HSUS. “It’s a free-for-all in these attractions, which is absolutely not in the dolphins’ best interests.”

The goal of the petitioners is for APHIS to respond promptly by proposing new petting pool regulations, or to provide its justification for excluding dolphin petting pools from the other interactive programs due to be published.  WDCS and its partners believe that petting pools have fallen through the cracks of federal government regulations. APHIS has focused little attention on the facilities and consequently, all marine mammals in petting pools are left without any specific regulations to protect them.


  • Biting the Hand that Feeds: the case against dolphin petting pools may be found at
  • Visitors to dolphin petting pools are at risk for injury. Due to their size and sheer numbers in petting pools, dolphins frequently make abrupt movements and may aggressively compete for food, placing visitors at risk for physical harm.
  • Numerous incidents of bites, head butts and dolphins trapping visitors’ hands against the pool sides were observed in studies carried out by WDCS. Several visitors held young children out over the pool, enabling the child to better touch the dolphin, but clearly placing the child at risk of falling in or injurious contact with a dolphin. This practice also led to one child being hit directly in the face by a dolphin interacting roughly with other dolphins.
  • Visitors do not know of the inherent dangers because there has never been a legal requirement for petting pools to report injuries incurred by visitors, or for the facility to provide contact details for visitors to report injuries.
  • Contrary to the educational claims of these programs, visitors may be learning behaviors that are putting wild dolphins at risk. Feeding dolphins in the wild is a big problem in some areas of the U.S., and these captive feeding and petting programs bear some of the responsibility for promoting and encouraging the feeding and interaction with dolphins in the wild. Not only is feeding dolphins in the wild illegal, it ultimately results in serious harm to the dolphins and risk of injury to the human participants. WDCS believes there is a real conservation issue associated with dolphin petting pools.


WDCS, The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, is a charity dedicated solely to the protection and welfare of whales, dolphins and porpoises and their environment. WDCS funds and conducts extensive research relating to cetaceans in the wild and captivity, and serves as a global voice for the conservation of whales and dolphins through campaigns, scientific research, field projects, legal advocacy and educational outreach programs.

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at

AWI, the Animal Welfare Institute, was founded in 1951 and is dedicated to alleviating suffering inflicted on animals by humans. AWI programs include conserving wildlife, fighting cruel trapping, advocating for animals in captivity, eliminating commercial whaling, banning the finning of sharks, combating the commercial killing, capture and sale of dolphins, saving equines from slaughter, fostering humane and sustainable farming methods, ending dealers’ illicit trade in dogs and cats for experimentation, and promoting care and handling for animals in laboratories.

Born Free USA works to alleviate captive animal suffering, rescue individual animals, protect wildlife — including highly endangered species — in their natural habitats, and encourage compassionate conservation globally. More at

WSPA, The World Society for the Protection of Animals, is the world’s largest alliance of animal welfare organizations, with a growing network of nearly 1000 affiliated societies in more than 150 countries. With consultative status at both the United Nations and the Council of Europe, WSPA is building a global animal welfare movement to further our vision of a world where animal welfare matters, and animal cruelty ends.

Cetacean Society International (CSI) is an all-volunteer conservation, education, and research organization working to stop all killing and captive display of whales, dolphins, and porpoises, and to protect their viable habitat. CSI supports and promotes benign activities such as regulated whale-watching and non-lethal and humane research, with an ultimate goal for the peaceful coexistence and mutual enrichment for both humans and cetaceans.

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