about divider membership divider our members divider members only divider faq divider resources divider contact



Dear Alliance Members & Friends:

Last year, we announced that the Alliance would focus its efforts over the next several years on three strategic priorities: increasing advocacy with legislators, regulators and the media on the benefits of marine mammals in human care; enhancing and championing Alliance accreditation and our International Code of Best Practices for Dolphin Facilities; and strengthening and growing the Alliance community. As you will see in the following pages, we’re pleased to report that we’ve made significant progress in these areas.

We stepped up our advocacy efforts considerably over the last year with Alliance member visits to more than 80 U.S. congressional offices, including the leadership of key committees and subcommittees, and scores of calls and letters to key congressmen. We mobilized members to call and send letters to state legislators in Hawaii and the State of Washington when we faced adverse bills in those states. We also sent Alliance Vice President Rita Irwin, Past President Billy Hurley, and Executive Director Kathleen Dezio to testify at a hearing for the bill in Washington State. Fortunately, those efforts were successful, and the provisions of concern did not become law in those states.

This past year, we also sent letters of support to officials in Canada and Mexico to assist our members there with the regulatory and legislative issues they faced. Alliance inspector and Director-at-Large Patrick Berry flew to Ontario to serve with Clint Wright on a Marine Mammal Technical Advisory Group convened by the Ontario government to advise them on standards for marine mammals in human care.


At the international level, Rita Irwin and Laura van der Meer, the Alliance’s International Counsel, represented the Alliance at a Convention of Migratory Species meeting in Quito, Ecuador, and Mark Swingle represented our community at an expert workshop on marine debris at a Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

We also continued our efforts to get the truth out about our community in the media, with Alliance spokespersons Billy Hurley, Grey Stafford, Rita Irwin, and others doing interviews with print, broadcast and online media outlets throughout the world. Complementing these efforts, the Alliance Communications and Education committees, led by Scott Higley and Terran McGinnis, launched our first-ever collective social media campaign last June in conjunction with World Oceans Day. We followed that month-long campaign with two mini campaigns, one opposing the dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan, and one soliciting support for organizations assisting with the rescue and rehabilitation of stranded sea lion pups in California.

Continuing our efforts to enhance the Alliance Standards & Guidelines and accreditation process, Policy and Planning Committee Chair Kevin Roberts worked with Alliance inspectors to identify updates needed to several sections and suggest wording for review and approval by the community. Accreditation Chair Bill Winhall drafted a detailed overview of our inspection process to help ensure consistency across inspectors and inspections.

As activists continued to approach our community’s travel partners with misinformation in an attempt to get them to discontinue their relationships with facilities caring for cetaceans, we also worked throughout the year to promote Alliance standards, accreditation and International Code of Best Practices for Dolphins to various travel organizations. These efforts included Alliance participation in a two-day meeting in Miami with Virgin executives and representatives from a number of activist groups to discuss a pledge to never again collect animals from the wild, which Sir Richard Branson had announced he would be asking facilities to which he sells to sign.

We also spent several days with representatives from Virgin companies and the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) in Mexico to show them Alliance standards in action at Dolphin Discovery and Delphinus facilities, both Alliance members and existing Virgin suppliers. Veteran Alliance inspectors Kevin Roberts and Patrick Berry joined Kathleen Dezio, Travis Burke, Fernando Delgado and others in those multi-day meetings and facility visits that gave Virgin and ABTA a much deeper understanding of the standards, work, and expertise of this community. At ABTA’s request, we also reviewed and provided feedback on their guidelines for facilities with marine and other animals.

Over the past year we welcomed two newly accredited members, Dolphin Cove Grand Cayman and Dolphin Discovery Playa del Carmen, into the Alliance and congratulated five members on their reaccreditations: Gulf World Marine Park, Dolphin Discovery Vallarta, Dolphin Encounters Bahamas, Dolphin Experience Bahamas, and Minnesota Zoological Gardens. Thank you to our hard working team of 11 inspectors who made this possible. We also heard presentations from five new prospective members about their facilities.

We worked to enhance the newly introduced, daily marine mammal news digest and expand its reach. We conducted a thorough review and update of Alliance bylaws to ensure they serve us well in the years ahead. We looked for new ways to collaborate with allied organizations, including the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association (IMATA), the European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM), and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). For our own association’s annual meeting, we worked hard to create a compelling agenda with top-notch speakers and to find an attractive venue to ensure maximum value for our members.

None of these efforts would have been possible, of course, without our very active and generous Alliance member volunteers. If you are not currently involved with an Alliance committee, taskforce or other initiative but are interested in serving on one, please contact us. Your participation and ideas are welcome and needed and will make our community even stronger in the years ahead.

These are challenging times, but we are a passionate, talented community that is doing exceptional work, and with your continued participation we have great things ahead this year.

Kevin Willis — 2014 President
Kathleen Dezio — Executive Director


More than 100 Alliance members and friends attended an energized 2015 Alliance Annual Meeting April 15-17 at the Ritz Carlton Pentagon City in Arlington, Virginia. Nearly half the attendees arrived early and kicked off the meeting with visits to Capitol Hill offices.

Alliance Vice President Rita Irwin got the meeting off to a strong start with a report on the Board and Committee Chair Meeting that preceded the annual meeting. This was followed by a “Year in Review” presentation by President Kevin Willis of the Minnesota Zoo and Executive Director Kathleen Dezio who highlighted Alliance work over the last year with legislators, regulators, the media and the travel industry.


  • A thought leader panel of experts from the community who are frequently interviewed by print, broadcast and online media outlets. In this panel discussion, Alliance Past President Billy Hurley of Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, Mark Simmons of Dolphins Plus, and Grey Stafford of Wildlife World Zoo shared their experiences explaining complex marine mammal science- related topics to the layman and combatting misinformation, all in the frequently compressed timeframe of 30-second sound bites.
  • A presentation by pollster Michael Maslansky, author of The Language of Trust: Sellling Ideas in a World of Skeptics.
  • Remarks by Eric Dezenhall, author of Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal, on how the factors of velocity, volume and venom on social media platforms have changed the rules of issue management today.
  • A panel on the changing activism landscape that featured representatives from several non-marine mammal, animal-related industries who shared their experiences over the years navigating this environment and promoting science-based facts about their work.
  • A presentation by Jill Allread, CEO of Public Communications, Inc. about strategies to address communications challenges in a sea of public commentary.
  • Remarks by Alliance Communications Committee Chair Scott Higley of Georgia Aquarium about the millennials and how to educate them about marine mammals and the work of aquariums, zoos, and marine parks.


  • A panel discussion on member experiences over the last year engaging with multinational environmental agreements. The panel, moderated by Laura van der Meer of Kelley Drye & Warren, included Alliance International Committee Chair Dave Blasko of The Mirage sharing his experiences with the Convention on Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), Alliance Vice President Rita Irwin of Dolphin Research Center discussing her experiences attending a Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) meeting in Quito, Ecuador, and Alliance Stranding Committee Chair Mark Swingle of Virginia Aquarium talking about his experiences at an Expert Workshop on marine debris for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
  • A presentation from former U.S. Rep. Thomas Reynolds of Nixon Peabody about why advocacy matters and how to be an effective advocate.
  • Presentations from nine representatives from the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish
    & Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, who spoke on topics ranging from the ongoing California sea lion Unusual Mortality Event to efforts to prevent and mitigate marine debris.
  • Legislative and policy updates from members in Asia, Canada, the Caribbean, the European Union, Mexico, and the U.S.


Two newly accredited members, Dolphin Cove Grand Cayman and Dolphin Discovery Play del Carmen, were welcomed into the Alliance at the meeting, five reaccreditations were recognized, and five perspective facility members and one perspective professional member made presentations about their work.


Sponsors of the meeting this year included Animal Necessity, Atlantic Pacific, Dolphin Connection, Dolphin Discovery, Georgia Aquarium, Gulf World Marine Park, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, McRoberts Sales Co., Mystic Aquarium, PGAV Destination Consultants, Pisces Seafood, Public Communications Inc., SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, and The Nassal Company.


  • “…Yet another AMAZING and extremely productive annual meeting. Thank you so much for the fantastic agenda and guests—I will continue to say that 3 days at our Washington, D.C. meeting is, for me, worth a full month of training. Congratulations and thank you for a great, GREAT job!
  • “This was one of the most beneficial and forward moving annual meetings for our membership we have had. I am confident you will find this same type of favorable response from most all of the attendees. Those who were not there very much missed out.”
  • “…Just wanted to tell you that it was an excellent meeting! The only bad thing is that I think everyone will expect it to keep getting better every year, and I don’t know how you can make it any better than it has been the last two years. They have been the best annual meetings that I can remember. Thanks so much!”
  • “…Yet another AMAZING and extremely productive annual meeting. Thank you so much for the fantastic agenda and guests—I will continue to say that 3 days at our Washington, D.C. meeting is, for me, worth a full month of training. Congratulations and thank you for a great, GREAT job!
  • “This was one of the most beneficial and forward moving annual meetings for our membership we have had. I am confident you will find this same type of favorable response from most all of the attendees. Those who were not there very much missed out.”
  • “…Just wanted to tell you that it was an excellent meeting! The only bad thing is that I think everyone will expect it to keep getting better every year, and I don’t know how you can make it any better than it has been the last two years. They have been the best annual meetings that I can remember. Thanks so much!”
  • “Wow—what an amazing meeting! …We really enjoyed everything, and have heard nothing but extremely positive things!”
  • “It really was a great meeting with valuable information from the speakers and good exchanges between members in attendance.”
  • “As a first-time attendee of the Alliance meeting, I found the sessions very interesting from a communications perspective. The speakers were spot- on. More than ever, our industry needs to work together to better highlight the important conservation, research and education work we lead. Having the opportunity to meet with my peers, face to face, has already made a big difference. Thank you…for organizing a great conference.”
  • “Another great meeting—I’m sorry I have to sneak out early. You have really raised the bar on the caliber of speakers/consultants and productivity of the annual meeting…”
  • “The feeling of this meeting was different to previous ones I’ve attended. It was more cohesive with a feeling that together you can accomplish more. I was also struck in a good way with the theme to learn from others who’ve experienced the same issues and come out on the other end positively.”
  • “Once again, great meeting. Everyone says so, not just me.”
  • “It was really a fantastic meeting with an exemplary agenda.”“Wow—what an amazing meeting! …We really enjoyed everything, and have heard nothing but extremely positive things!”
  • “It really was a great meeting with valuable information from the speakers and good exchanges between members in attendance.”
  • “As a first-time attendee of the Alliance meeting, I found the sessions very interesting from a communications perspective. The speakers were spot- on. More than ever, our industry needs to work together to better highlight the important conservation, research and education work we lead. Having the opportunity to meet with my peers, face to face, has already made a big difference. Thank you…for organizing a great conference.”
  • “Another great meeting—I’m sorry I have to sneak out early. You have really raised the bar on the caliber of speakers/consultants and productivity of the annual meeting…”
  • “The feeling of this meeting was different to previous ones I’ve attended. It was more cohesive with a feeling that together you can accomplish more. I was also struck in a good way with the theme to learn from others who’ve experienced the same issues and come out on the other end positively.”
  • “Once again, great meeting. Everyone says so, not just me.”
  • “It was really a fantastic meeting with an exemplary agenda.”


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.


The Alliance stepped up advocacy efforts in Washington last year after Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Jared Huffman (D-CA) offered a last-minute amendment to the U.S. House agriculture appropriations bill in an effort to force the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to initiate a study of marine mammals in human care and, ultimately, to reopen the Animal Welfare Act regulations that govern the care and standards for marine mammals in zoological settings. The Alliance contacted key members of Congress to urge them to oppose this unnecessary amendment and educate them about our work and high standards. We also mobilized members to make calls and send letters to legislators.

The Alliance followed that effort with a summer fly-in for visits to Capitol Hill. Alliance members also joined Association of Zoos & Aquariums members in another fly-in in March, and we coordinated more visits in conjunction with the 2015 Alliance Annual Meeting. All told, Alliance members visited more than 80 congressional offices over the past year, including the leadership of key committees and subcommittees, to educate them about our high standards of care and tell them about the significant research, education and conservation benefits of having marine mammals in human care.

The Alliance Stranding Committee also continued lobbying for the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program. This U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) program provides the only direct federal funding available to the U.S. national marine mammal stranding network through a competitive grants process. The Prescott program has been highly impactful since its inception in 2002, and Alliance members of the stranding network have used this funding source to enhance their response capabilities. Prescott funding has been reduced in recent years and threatened with elimination in the NOAA budget. Alliance members are working with congressional representatives and the agency to restore full funding to this essential program.


The Alliance also increased our state advocacy efforts over the past year after Washington State Sen. Kevin Ranker introduced a bill (SB 566) in the Washington state legislature that would have banned the holding of cetaceans for “performance or entertainment purposes” and prohibited the import, export and breeding of cetaceans. The Alliance retained a Washington state lobbying firm to assist with our advocacy there, and Alliance Vice President Rita Irwin, Past President Billy Hurley, and Executive Director Kathleen Dezio flew to Washington to testify in a hearing on the bill. We also again mobilized our members to send letters to Washington state legislators urging them to oppose the bill because it discounted and would have undermined the important public education, scientific research and conservation work of zoos and aquariums in Washington state and throughout the country, impeded our rescue and rehabilitation work, and set a very dangerous and unfortunate precedent of criminalizing the work of zoological institutions. We were ultimately successful, and the bill did not become law.

The Alliance also mobilized members when an exotic animals bill (HB 1012) was introduced in Hawaii that would have adversely impacted our community. The bill would have prohibited “the display or performance of live wild or exotic animals, unless the animals physically reside in Hawaii for more than three hundred days before the display or performance.” Although the bill appeared to be intended to address issues related to traveling circuses in Hawaii, its broad language appeared to include marine mammals, and among other things, it could have impeded Alliance member facilities’ ability to transfer animals between accredited facilities. The Alliance contacted key legislators in Hawaii to urge them to oppose the bill. We also coordinated action with member facilities in Hawaii.


After the Government of Ontario convened a committee last year to examine the “benefits and deleterious effects of keeping cetaceans in captivity in non-research facilities,” the Alliance compiled scientific references for the committee and submitted comments. In January 2015, the Ontario government announced plans to introduce higher standards of care for marine mammals and created a technical advisory group (TAG) to provide advice on the final standards. The Alliance sent Board Member Patrick Berry of Gulfarium to participate in the TAG’s first meeting in February along with Clint Wright of Vancouver Aquarium.

In Mexico last year, five bills were introduced that could have adversely impacted dolphin facilities there, including several that would have prohibited marine mammals in facilities, shows and entertainment. Alliance members in Mexico met with more than a dozen key Mexican legislators and other officials to educate them about the consequences of the bills and inform them about the standards and work of marine mammal facilities in Mexico.

The Alliance supported their efforts with a letter to legislators explaining how the high standards of accredited Alliance members optimize physical health, provide exceptional environmental conditions, and maximize the educational and scientific value of the ambassador animals in their facilities.


The Alliance also joined other ocean conservation organizations in co-signing a letter to President Obama urging him to see that the U.S. government assists the governments of Mexico and China with measures to save the endangered vaquita dolphin that resides in waters off the west coast of Mexico.

The Alliance participated in a number of meetings of multilateral environmental agreements last year, including technical and policy meetings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at which it was agreed that no further action would be taken concerning wild-caught Tursiops aduncus in the Solomon Islands in light of that government’s establishment of a zero take quota in 2012. The Alliance successfully worked with governments and others to reject a proposal to examine trade in Tursiops truncatus as part of the CITES “significant trade” process. Notwithstanding the clarification by Brazil that the 600+ Tursiops “bodies” were actually tissue and other samples sent from Brazil to Australia for research, some governments and the majority of NGOs present still pushed for review of the species. The Alliance rejoined the “Purpose Code Working Group” for the third time to advocate against changes in CITES permitting that could restrict the movement of animals for breeding, education, research and other legitimate non-commercial purposes. It remains involved in discussions about the transport of live animals.

A partner of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) since 2008, the Alliance submitted comments on the CMS Strategic Plan for Migratory Species 2015-2023 and participated for the first time in a meeting of the Convention’s Scientific Council. Then Alliance Vice President Rita Irwin and Alliance special counsel Laura van der Meer also participated in the triannual Conference of the Parties to CMS in Quito, Ecuador. The Alliance was pleased that the CMS Parties refused to “endorse” the findings of a closed workshop on cetacean culture funded by Whale and Dolphin Conservation and for which the CMS Secretariat excluded the participation of marine mammal park experts. CMS will continue to focus on cetacean culture over the next three years through a dedicated working group. In line with Alliance recommendations, however, the Parties rejected a call for the working group to develop guidelines for a precautionary approach to the management of cetaceans.

Working with the proponent government (Monaco), the Alliance achieved its goal to limit a resolution inviting “Parties that have not already done so to develop
and implement national legislation prohibiting the live captures of cetaceans from the wild” to inviting prohibitions on collection for commercial purposes.
The Alliance supported a resolution on marine debris which calls upon
governments to support ongoing public awareness and education campaigns
by stakeholder groups and backed a resolution adopted by the Parties that urges governments to put in place measures to promote sustainable boat- based wildlife watching. The Alliance successfully advocated the addition of text to the resolution to reflect the prohibitions by some governments on feeding, touching or swimming with wild cetaceans.

The Alliance also succeeded in obtaining an invitation for Alliance Stranding Committee Chair Mark Swingle of Virginia Aquarium to participate in a closed meeting of experts on marine debris under the auspices of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Representatives from 15 countries attended the Expert Workshop in Baltimore, Maryland to discuss the growing worldwide problem of marine debris. Issues such as the proliferation of plastic waste and derelict fishing gear are global problems that are affecting species such as marine mammals and sea turtles. The results of the workshop will be used to inform potential regulatory and education policies at the international level.


Last year, the Alliance launched a first-ever, member-wide social media campaign titled “Our World Oceans Month” in June. The campaign joined Alliance members in a unified voice to drive attention to the plight of the world’s oceans and showcased Alliance members as the true animal advocates committed to animal conservation around the world.

The campaign was comprised of 30 days of conservation messages, tips, calls to action, and other information about the oceans that was provided weekly to Alliance members for use on their social media channels. Alliance Communications and Education Committee members teamed up to create the fact-based content and selected compelling, attention-grabbing images. While the messaging and graphics allowed for customization and personalization by members, the use of common hashtags resulted in widespread social sharing among fans and millions of exposures to these important conservation messages and images.

Following this successful campaign, a similar campaign was conducted in the fall during the dolphin drive hunt in Taiji, Japan to denounce the brutal practice and make clear that Alliance members do not collect animals from the drive. Positive, proactive messages and materials were again provided for members to use in their social media channels.

A third social media initiative was later mounted to garner support and financial assistance for stranding centers in California that were responding to the thousands of sea lion pups that were washing up on Southern California beaches sick and emaciated.

The Alliance also worked throughout the year to get the facts out about marine mammal issues through numerous interviews with print, broadcast and online media outlets. Alliance spokespersons included Alliance Past President Billy Hurley of Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, Grey Stafford of Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium, Alliance President Kevin Willis of Minnesota Zoo, Alliance Vice President Rita Irwin of Dolphin Research Center, and Alliance Executive Director Kathleen Dezio. The Alliance also provided standby statements and talking points for members on breaking news issues ranging from the Empty the Tank protests to the Taiji dolphin drive and participated in a news conference to rebut PETA allegations.


More than 30 educators attended the annual Alliance Education Committee Meeting held last fall in San Diego at SeaWorld and the National Marine Mammal Foundation. The three-day meeting included a visit to the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Southwest Science Center where attendees learned about stranding network necropsy work, toured the genetics and hormone labs, learned about the agency’s use of hexacopters, and visited the tech tank where the agency conducts marine mammal acoustics research. The meeting also included a visit to the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. Educators were treated to numerous presentations from some of the marine mammal community’s leading scientists.

The 2015 Education Committee Conference will be held in Cancun, Mexico Oct. 20-23 and is open to all Alliance facility educators.

To help ensure accuracy and consistency in the educational information our members share about marine mammals, the Alliance added a new California sea lion fact sheet to its portfolio of animal fact sheets. Drawing on the expertise of the Veterinary Advisory Committee chaired by Jay Sweeney of Dolphin Quest, the Alliance Education Committee, chaired by Terran McGinnis of Marineland Dolphin Adventure, oversees the creation of these fact sheets. A killer whale fact sheet and a South American sea lion fact sheet are in development.



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.


Alliance member facilities are frequently at the forefront of response when marine animals are in peril. The aid and expertise of our members are crucial to ongoing efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and release ocean-dwelling species around the world.

This past year, Alliance members were major contributors in response to the record-setting sea turtle cold-stunning event in Massachusetts. The New England Aquarium received more than 840 live cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in the fall of 2014. The Kemp’s ridley is the world’s most endangered sea turtle species. Following triage, many of these endangered turtles were transported to other facilities for rehabilitation to relieve the intense pressure on the New England Aquarium staff and their rehabilitation resources. Alliance member facilities, because of their sea turtle resources and expertise, were able to take many of the Kemp’s ridley turtles for rehabilitation. Six Alliance members received 189 (more than 34 percent) of the sea turtles that were transported to other facilities for rehabilitation and eventual release. Alliance members also sent staff to assist the New England Aquarium during the height of the historic sea turtle stranding event. The following Alliance members directly contributed to this incredible sea turtle stranding response effort: Gulf World Marine Park, SeaWorld Orlando, Miami Seaquarium, Pittsburgh Zoo, Virginia Aquarium Foundation and Disney’s Animal Programs.

Numerous Alliance members also assisted with the sea lion pup Unusual Mortality Event in Southern California, rescuing and rehabilitating hundreds of the pups and releasing many back into the wild. SeaWorld San Diego alone has rescued 893 sea lions, many of which were pups, since Jan.1, 2015. The SeaWorld San Diego team also rescued 30 Northern elephant seals, 24 harbor seals, seven Guadalupe fur seals, and one long beak common dolphin, helping a total of 1,109 marine animals so far this year.


Veterinary science is an 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 April, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service granted the Alliance a new permit for research activities on marine mammal parts. The objective of the permit is to study and enhance the health and biology of wild marine mammals and marine mammals maintained in public display, research, and stranding facilities. Research includes studies of diseases of marine mammals, pathology, health diagnostics, endocrinology, effects of environmental contaminants, immunology, toxicology, stock structure, distribution, age determination, reproduction, feeding habits, and nutrition.

The Principal Investigator on the permit is Kristi West of Hawaii Pacific University. The current Co-Investigators are: Patrick Berry of Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, Dave Blasko of The Mirage, Greg Charbeneau of Atlantis, Paradise Island, Fernando Delgado of Delphinus, Tim Mullican of Georgia Aquarium, Lori Polasek of Alaska SeaLife Center, Kevin Roberts of Marineland Dolphin Adventure, George Rogers of Dolphin Explorer, Robert Rose of Miami Seaquarium, Miguel Sim?es da Silveira of Zoomarine Portugal, Judy St. Leger of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, and Pam Yochem of Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute.

Work continued last year on an acoustics survey of Alliance facilities comparing the ambient noise in enclosures to that of the ocean. Data from 14 member and two non-member facilities has been collected and now analyzed, and will be submitted for publication in the peer-reviewed literature this year.


Alaska Sea Life Center (ASLC) was elated at the birth of Steller sea lion pup Forrest on July 20, 2014. Forrest is the first male Steller sea lion to be born in a North American facility since the 1980s; yet, this was the second pup for parents Eden and Woody. Eleanor “Ellie” was born on June 20, 2013. Forrest has thrived in the care of mom, Eden, and ASLC’s mammal team, and delights visitors with his animated personality whenever he’s on habitat.

Eden and her two pups are part of a study focused on maternal care by female Steller sea lions, as part of the Center’s research to better understand this endangered population. ASLC Marine Mammal Scientist Dr. Lori Polasek and her team are looking at the energetic cost of raising a pup from conception to weaning through hormone levels, pregnancy detection, and pup care.

Delphinus promotes ocean conservation through beach cleanups in the nature reserve of Isla Contoy. In 2013 and 2014, 1.8 tons of waste was collected through the participation of 468 volunteers, mostly high school students. The beach cleanups are a great opportunity for environmental education, offering direct contact with the problem and participating in the solution.

Delphinus extends its efforts with an environmental education program for elementary school students in the state of Quintana Roo. Children from six-years-old up to the high school age have the opportunity to learn directly about dolphins and from this experience participate in the care of marine habitats.

Great Place to Work Institute, Mexico certified Delphinus as one of the Best Companies to Work For in Mexico in the category of organizations between 50 and 500 collaborators. The award was received for the organization’s efforts to generate an enriching working environment rooted in a corporate culture that fosters respect, credibility, impartiality, pride and camaraderie, which benefits the results of the business as a whole.

Delphinus also promotes the artistic expression of people who work in the organization every day through its traditional photography contest in which its employees participate.

Dolphin Connection in Duck Key, Fla, challenged themselves to discover if they were truly inspiring guests to take action on behalf of ocean conservation. A review of their post-interactive program evaluations revealed that 50 percent of guests said they already cared about animals, were already knowledgeable about topics related to ocean conservation, and wanted to make a difference. In response, Dolphin Connection re-designed its educational focus to enhance existing marine-related facts with inspirational messaging and personal experiences. Primary among these experiences, of course, is forming an emotional connection with the dolphins and the marine environment, which in turn leads to feelings of respect and appreciation. By further providing guests with opportunities to share their own conservation stories, they attempted to generate feelings of pride and ownership, while creating a positive and energetic brainstorming session that becomes their action plan for the future. A powerful experience from beginning to end.

Did this new philosophy of inspirational conservation education work? To find out, Dolphin Connection added a question to their post- interactive program evaluations: “Do we inspire conservation?” A 93 percent positive response to this question suggests that they do. The facility now encourages guests to share their stories on the Dolphin Connection website. To date, they have received more than 75 positive comments, and the list continues to grow.

Sharing this concept at the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association 2014 annual conference, Dolphin Connection was honored with the first place award for best Education/Conservation presentation. The paper, titled, “Marine Mammal Education: Do we inspire conservation?,” summarizes data from published journals, program evaluations, and staff observations, and made the case for the undeniable power that accredited marine mammal facilities have to provide the inspiration that leads our guests toward conservation behavior.

Results from a groundbreaking scientific study conducted at Dolphin Quest Oahu (DQO) were published this past October in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Researchers from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute partnered with the animal trainers at DQO to develop non-invasive methods for estimating wild marine mammals’ metabolic rate and lung mechanics.

The data collected from DQO’s dolphins provided insights into how marine mammals manage oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen in various situations, including when the animals are wearing electronic data logging tags. Scientists often use temporary data logging suction tags to study wild dolphins. The results revealed that dolphins actually slow their movements down instead of speeding up to compensate for the added drag created by the data logging tag.

Conducting this study in the wild would be impossible, due to the need for a safe and effective environment. The Dolphin Quest animal trainers spent months teaching the animals specific behaviors, and then building on those behaviors to approximate everything the dolphins would see, feel, and experience during the voluntary research sessions.

Advancing marine mammal research serves as a cornerstone of Dolphin Quest’s ongoing commitment to global stewardship. Since opening in 1988, Dolphin Quest has proudly contributed more than $3 million in funding, resources, and field support to vital marine research projects.

Dolphin Research Center (DRC) in Grassy Key, Fla. again supported environmental education initiatives with local schools. 2014 marked the second year of a partnership with Stanley Switlik Elementary School, which services more than 560 students from prekindergarten through fifth grade. DRC educators visited every classroom to teach standards-based marine science and conservation lessons. Students then participated in a field trip to the facility. The programs were interactive and grade-appropriate. For example, students experienced how dolphins grasp objects with their teeth by holding brushes with their mouths to paint shirts, participated in puppet shows, and more. Grades 3-5 also had a field experience to Curry Hammock State Park to study marine seagrasses and sea life. Each year, DRC implements new, different conservation themes so that students adopt multiple conservation strategies. Promoting responsible interactions and conservation mindedness is the key to living in harmony with the numerous species of the Florida Keys and to preserving them for generations to come. A nonprofit facility, DRC greatly benefits from dedicated volunteers, some of whom explore career-related goals and experience in internships. All are given great access to DRC’s educational programs, library, and other resources that expand their training and knowledge of marine mammals and the importance of conservation. In 2014 alone, the facility welcomed more than 175 new and returning volunteers. Ranging in age from high school years to more than 80, these volunteers donated more than 20,000 hours in service.

Georgia Aquarium continued its support of a collaborative study of beluga whales within Bristol Bay, Alaska. The project’s initial focus was on beluga whale habitat use in Bristol Bay, which involved handling and tagging whales with long-term satellite tags. These tags recorded location data and transmitted the information to the research team via satellite link. Handling beluga whales provided the opportunity to broaden the scope of the studies by obtaining biological samples. This also allowed investigations into other aspects of the health and life history of beluga whales in Bristol Bay. These studies are important to better comprehend the status of belugas in Bristol Bay, but are also valuable in understanding the plight of the endangered beluga whale population in Cook Inlet.

Personnel from National Marine Mammal Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska SeaLife Center, Alaska Veterinary Pathology Services, Georgia Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium/ Sea Research Foundation, Shedd Aquarium and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, as well as the local community were involved in the planning, coordination and execution of this project. Georgia Aquarium provides the financial support for the project infrastructure.

Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute’s (HSWRI)
Marine Mammal Stranding Team in Florida was extremely busy this past year with the research, response, and rescue of cetaceans along the east coast of northern and central Florida. During 2013-2014 their team responded to 231 cetaceans, most of which were bottlenose dolphins associated with either the Indian River Lagoon or Mid-Atlantic Unusual Mortality Events. Given the large number of mortalities occurring in the study area, it is always inspiring to be able to give at least a few animals a second chance. HSWRI, along with NOAA Fisheries, and local partners including SeaWorld Orlando, were able to successfully rescue four animals during that time period that were treated and returned back to the Indian River Lagoon estuary.

On May 22, 2014, Dazzle, a resident Atlantic bottlenose dolphin at Marineland Dolphin Adventure, successfully gave birth to a female calf. Mom and calf received around-the-clock care after the birth. Both thrived and met important milestones, such as nursing independently, weight gain and bonding.

The name of the newest dolphin calf was revealed in September after fans and guests of Marineland Dolphin Adventure voted in the “What’s In A Name?” Dolphin Adventure Sweepstakes sponsored by AT&T on Marineland’s Facebook page. The winning name, Coquina, won with almost 40 percent of the total vote. Coquina is also the soft limestone rock consisting of shells and corals that is found around northeast Florida.

Marineland Dolphin Adventure has the longest-standing dolphin breeding program of any aquarium or zoo. The first dolphin birth in a human care environment took place at Marineland in 1947. With every animal birth, researchers and experts can learn more from mothers, calves and other dolphins to build data that can ultimately be used to conserve the species in their natural habitats.

Oceans of Fun is known for being a leader in pinniped interactive programs. This past season they were able to reach more than 185,000 guests. By bringing guests up close and personal with seals and sea lions to touch, feed and interact, they foster connections between people and animals while educating them about marine life, the environment and conservation. From their community outreach programs to their in-house summer camps and in-water programs, they strive to inspire their guests to work together in their daily lives to make a positive difference for marine life and the environment.

The SeaWorld parks create a controlled setting for scientifically studying and understanding killer whales that can be impossible to replicate in the wild. As just one example, this year a team of scientists from Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and SeaWorld San Diego provided the strongest evidence yet that killer whale dialects are learned. Their study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, found that juvenile male killer whales are capable of learning new call types when they undergo a change in social association.

Killer whales have vocal repertoires that scientists call ‘dialects’ because they’re composed of calls unique to particular social groups. Discovering how whales develop these dialects hasn’t been possible in the wild because of the inherent challenges in tracking an individual whale’s vocalizations and behavior regularly and for extended periods of time.

The study took advantage of the unique habitat at SeaWorld that was outfitted with multichannel video and eight hydrophones, and allowed the researchers to record and analyze the calls made by individual whales over a five-year period.

In addition to better understanding vocal development in killer whales, learning whether social association affects their calls also can shed light on how wild populations of whales interact. Scientists still don’t know if and how populations of killer whales can merge; this data give clues about how that might occur.

A touching story emerged with the birth of a female California sea lion pup at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in 2014. What is significant is that the sire is the sea lion named Sgt. Nevis, made famous in 2009 after he was shot point blank in the face by a fisherman in the Sacramento River and left for dead. Had it not been for his dramatic rescue and rehabilitation by the Marine Mammal Center, Sgt. Nevis (named after the officer who helped recover him), would not have survived. The severity of the gunshot wound affected his ability to dive for fish--even put his head underwater--and fend for himself, much less survive on his own. The open crater-like wound in his snout even forced him to modify his breathing. After transferring to the park in 2010, he became the first sea lion to receive reconstructive facial surgery. Until the birth of “Pebbles,” animal care staff members were unsure if he was capable of breeding since the injury likely affected his sense of smell. At 800 lbs, Sarge, as he is known by his trainers, is the largest sea lion in the park’s group, and is now an exceptional and proven breeder.

On July 10, 2014, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue team was called upon to assist a beached false killer whale in distress along North Chesterman beach near Tofino. After hours of hard work and support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and other organizations, the calf was successfully transported to the Rescue Centre to begin treatment.

It was touch and go for several weeks for the calf named “Chester.” Historically, stranded cetaceans have had a low chance of survival and very few veterinarians have experience rehabilitating stranded false killer whale calves. Due to his lack of strength, Chester needed to be supported in a custom-made sling as he was not able to swim on his own.

Slowly, Chester started to show signs of improvement. He began swimming on his own and started to be curious about his environment; exploring each new person who joined him in his pool and responding to tactile touch, showing off his underside for belly rubs.

Today, Chester resides in a pool behind the scenes at the Aquarium after outgrowing the space at the Rescue Centre. His remarkable rehabilitation has provided invaluable learning opportunities for veterinarians and scientists around the world as limited information is available about false killer whales.


Maintaining high standards is of paramount importance to all who work at marine mammal facilities. They are the benchmark of our internal commitment to excellence, and they demonstrate to the public our dedication to animal welfare in all areas of operation. As we continue to grow and our members stay on the cutting edge of marine mammal care and science, we continue to raise the bar through annual updates to our standards and guidelines, which was done this past year under the leadership of Kevin Roberts of Marineland Dolphin Adventure and chair of the Animal Management Committee.

Last year, teams of inspectors performed AMMPA accreditation inspections and evaluations on two new member facilities, Dolphin Cove Grand Cayman and Dolphin Discovery Playa del Carmen. They performed reaccreditation inspections and evaluations on five Alliance facilities. The facilities reaccredited were: Dolphin Experience Bahamas, Dolphin Encounters Bahamas, Gulf World Marine Park, Minnesota Zoo, and Sea Life Park Vallarta.

More than three-quarters of Alliance applicants are also IMATA accredited. We encourage all Alliance members to also become IMATA-accredited. In most cases, we can do both inspections at the same time.


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.

Alaska SeaLife Center
CZS Brookfield Zoo
Discovery Cove
Disney’s Animal Programs
at The Seas
Dolphin Connection
Dolphin Quest Hawaii
Dolphin Quest Oahu
Dolphin Research Center
Georgia Aquarium
Gulf World Marine Park
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
Marineland Dolphin Adventure
Miami Seaquarium
Minnesota Zoological Gardens
The Mirage Dolphin Habitat
Mystic Aquarium
WCS New York Aquarium
Oceans of Fun
Pittsburgh Zoo
Pt. Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Sea Life Park Hawaii
SeaWorld Orlando
SeaWorld San Antonio
SeaWorld San Diego
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Theater of the Sea
Virginia Aquarium & Marine
Science Center Foundation
Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium

Atlantis, Paradise Island
Delphinus Dreams Cancún
Delphinus Riviera Maya
Delphinus Xcaret
Delphinus Xel-Há
Dolfinarium Harderwijk Holland
Dolphin Cove Grand Cayman
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 Playa del Carmen
Dolphin Discovery Puerto Aventuras
Dolphin Discovery Six Flags Mexico
Dolphin Discovery Tortola
Dolphin Discovery Vallarta
Dolphin Encounters, LTD
Dolphin Explorer
Dolphin Quest Bermuda
Lisbon Zoo
Loro Parque Tenerife
Moorea Dolphin Center
Ocean Park
Tampereen Sarkanniemi Oy
UNEXSO Dolphin Experience
Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre
Zoomarine Italy
Zoomarine Portugal
Hubbs/SeaWorld Research Institute
National Marine Mammal Foundation
SAIC BioSolutions Division
U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program

American Veterinary Medical Association
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Canadian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums
European Association for Aquatic Mammals
International Association for Aquatic Animals
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


Download the Annual Report in PDF format

How Do We Do It?