The National Aquarium in Baltimore is asking for feedback as it considers whether to keep the eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in its care or move them to an ocean-side sanctuary.
The Inner Harbor anchor institution revealed plans this week to evaluate its future role as a conservation organization — including whether to keep the marine mammals — through a process it's calling BLUEprint.
The aquarium launched the website aqua.org/future for the public to submit opinions. Keeping marine mammals in captivity is a subject of debate among scientists and activists over whether the sea creatures can thrive outside of their natural habitat.
Kate Hendrickson, a spokeswoman for the aquarium, said the news was drawing response Thursday from around the country.
"We've heard the whole range of viewpoints," she said. "Some who love the dolphins, some who applaud us for asking the question, some who were never really thrilled to see dolphins on exhibit to begin with, some who are going to be upset if they leave.
"Mostly, we have just heard that people are eager to find out what the future holds."
The aquarium is hosting an invitation-only Dolphin Summit this month for aquatic experts who will discuss options for keeping the dolphins at the Inner Harbor amphitheater or moving them elsewhere. The biggest consideration is what's best for the dolphin's health and well being, aquarium officials say.
"As science continues to evolve and emerge, we have an obligation to re-examine our philosophy of care and evaluate all of the best possible options for a living environment for our dolphins in the years ahead," the aquarium said in a statement. "We take our responsibility to the eight dolphins in our care very seriously. We are currently engaging with animal care experts, veterinarians and biologists to determine the feasibility of a variety of potential solutions."
There is no timeline for a decision on the future plans for the dolphins or changes to the aquarium identified through the BLUEprint process.
No public forums on the aquarium's future plans have been scheduled, Hendrickson said.
"Right now, there isn't a formal plan for feedback," she said. "We are just interested in hearing what our community has to say."