Marine biologist Dr. Ingrid Visser recently visited the Miami Seaquarium and took video and photos of the dolphins that appear in the popular "Flipper Dolphin Show" that appears to show at least three of the animals with open wounds on their snouts and scars across their lower jaws. A video provided by PETA also shows what appears to be dolphins purposely smacking their heads into the tank floor.
PETA has been coming at the Miami Seaquarium from all sides with lawsuits and protests, mostly over the treatment of the park's orca, Lolita, who has been in captivity since 1970 and confined to live in the smallest tank in the United States. But the activists are also looking to expose the conditions of the park's bottlenose dolphins and have filed a complaint calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate what PETA is calling "blatant violations" of the federal Animal Welfare Act.
These injuries, PETA claims, have been caused from forcing the dolphins to perform tricks during the show. Trainers plant their feet on the dolphins' faces to push them in the tank as they do tricks during the performance.
The video shot by Visser shows dolphins repeatedly banging their heads into the grate at the bottom of the tank where the "Top Deck Dolphin Show" is held. This disturbing behavior, PETA says, is not normal and could be a sign of possible psychological distress.
"It's obvious that dolphins suffer from psychological distress when trapped in tiny tanks, but the shows at the Miami Seaquarium, in which they're used as water skis, are physically injuring them too," says Jared Goodman, PETA's director of animal law. "PETA is calling on authorities for action to save these dolphins — and on families to stay far away from these cruel shows."
The group alleges that three of the dolphins at the park had open wounds and scarring on their dorsal fins and that Visser saw a
"The trainer's standing on the animal likely caused injuries or, at the very least, exasperated them," Goodman says.
Much like Lolita, PETA says the dolphins are confined to live in small tanks and forced to swim in circles. Dolphins in the wild can swim more than 60 miles a day with their pods and seek out their own food.
The complaint, which was filed Wednesday, is in addition to PETA's lawsuit against the park over Lolita's condition.
In July, PETA, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Orca Network, filed a lawsuit against the park saying that keeping the orca in her small tank constitutes a violation of the Endangered Species Act. PETA has demanded Lolita be set free and sent to Washington state to live near her family.
In 2011, a similar lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court. In 2012, another lawsuit claimed the park violated the Animal Welfare Act by allowing trainers to ride Lolita during performances and was also eventually dismissed. It was appealed, but in 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal.
Goodman tells New Times that the current lawsuit is still pending. A request for comment from the Seaquarium was not immediately returned.