The four remaining dolphins at Dolphinaris Arizona were transported late Tuesday night to a sanctuary at the US Virgin Islands, according to Coral World Ocean Park in St. Thomas.
Dolphinaris Arizona, located on the Salt River Reservation near Scottsdale, confirmed the move and said it would reopen the site “as a new concept” that wouldn’t involve dolphins, a report said. The news comes after a fourth dolphin, Kai, died Jan. 31.
The cargo was seen transferred onto a plane, a station reported. The dolphins were loaded onto a private jet, with their trainers and veterinary staff accompanying them.
The dolphins’ new home is a natural ocean water sanctuary, which is Coral World Ocean Park’s new St. Thomas Sea Sanctuary at Water Bay, the Arizona Republic reported.
“The dolphins will live in our newly developed St. Thomas Sea Sanctuary, a first-of-its-kind 69,000-square-foot ocean habitat that introduces the dolphins to a natural environment with the added advantage of being cared for by licensed veterinarians and dolphin experts who are dedicated to their health and wellbeing,” Lee Kellar, Coral World Ocean Park general curator, said in the statement obtained by the paper.
The move also follows the temporary closure of the facility on Feb. 8 so that a panel of experts could re-evaluate “the facility, environmental factors and all aspects of animal welfare at the facility,” according to the Republic.
Although multiple sources told FOX 10 Phoenix that the voluntary closure was now permanent, a Dolphinaris spokesperson would not confirm that to be the case.
Half of the facility’s eight dolphins died since its opening in 2016, the Republic reported.
Kai’s death came one month after Khloe, an 11-year-old bottlenose dolphin, died Dec. 31 after a six-year struggle with a chronic illness, FOX 10 reported.
Last September, 7-year-old Bodie died of a rare muscle disease and 10-year-old Alia died last May from a bacterial infection that spread quickly, the station reported.
The four remaining dolphins will spend time in the sanctuary’s specialty areas while they adjust to their new home, the station reported, citing a statement from Coral World Ocean Park.
They will then spend several months building strong relationships with other dolphins at the facility before they are introduced to the public, the statement said.
Dolphin Quest in Hawaii owns two of the dolphins, Liko and Noelani. Dolpinaris Arizona released a statement late Wednesday saying that a joint decision was made with Dolphin Quest to keep all four dolphins, including Sonny and Ping, together.
“We felt it was imperative to remove the animals from what appeared to be a compromised environment at the Arizona facility,” Dr. Rae Stone, Dolphin Quest co-founder, said in a statement obtained by the paper. “Just like the natural ocean water sanctuaries Dolphin Quest pioneered over three decades ago in Hawaii, Coral World’s marine habitat promises to provide a healthy and enriching environment where our dolphins will inspire the next generations of ocean stewards.”
The aquatic facility, when it was open, allowed humans to interact and swim with its dolphins.
“They’re under chronic stress of living in tanks and dealing with people coming into the tanks and petting them,” Lori Marino, founder of the Whale Sanctuary Project, told the Republic. “Whenever you have people getting into the water, putting their hand on the animal, you have the possibility of a transfer of disease.”
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