Mirage in Vegas closes wildlife attraction after third dolphin dies

The Mirage The Las Vegas hotel and casino temporarily closed its dolphin and wildlife attraction after the death of an 11-year-old bottlenose dolphin on Saturday, the third dolphin death since the spring.

The resident cetacean, named K2, was the second dolphin to perish in September. The Mirage said the cause of death was respiratory illness; the autopsy report will take about 30 days.

Earlier this month, 19-year-old Maverick was receiving medical treatment for a lung infection when he died. the company is awaiting autopsy results for his case. In April, 13-year-old Bella died of gastroenteritis.

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The Siegfried & Roy Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, which is also home to several felines, has not scheduled a reopening date. A Mirage spokesperson said the October 9 date posted on the website did not reflect the actual return. The Mirage last closed the attraction in March 2020, when the pandemic forced the entire Strip to go dark.

The hotel and casino, which are operated by MGM Resorts, have been criticized over the years for the high number of dolphin deaths at the attraction, which opened in 1990 with five big noses. Since its inception, the society said 14 dolphins have died of various causes and at different ages: three were at least 25 years old, the average lifespan of dolphins in captivity, and three were young, for example. However, activists count 16 dead.

“This particular facility is known among the animal rights community as the ‘Dolphin Death Pool’ due to the high percentage of dolphin deaths reported in the late 90s and early 00s,” Shelly Rae said. , Vegas resident and dolphin advocate. an email. “I am appalled that the Mirage appears to be returning to those old standards of care.”

During the shutdown, the company said independent investigators, such as the San Diego-based company National Marine Mammal Foundation, will review the site’s services and operations, such as its veterinary care, water quality and filtration system. (The NMMF did not respond to requests for comment.)

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On April 27, the attraction passed a routine inspection by the Zoosanitary and Phytosanitary Inspection Service of the Ministry of Agriculture. An agency spokesperson was unsure of the next planned visit, but confirmed that the station had temporarily closed to conduct an internal investigation.

In a memo released the day after K2’s death, Mirage’s interim president, Franz Kallao, expressed his sadness at the loss of Duchess’ young son, the property’s eldest heir apparent, who is nearly 50 years old. year.

“K2 was very vocal, energetic, loved his toys and was a joy to be around,” Kallao wrote. “He always made us smile.” Kallao told his team and the general public that a panel of experts would thoroughly examine the habitat, with the goal of creating a safe and secure home for its finned residents.

“We are temporarily closing the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat to focus our efforts on ensuring we have the safest possible environment and the best possible care for our dolphins and to give our team the time they need. to process and mourn,” he said in the letter.

Animal welfare advocates point to death as a cruel consequence of keeping wild animals in captivity. “It’s horribly tragic,” said Cameron Harsh, director of programs at the U.S. office of World Animal Protection. “This is the third dolphin to die on this site. [this year], and they are all under 20 years old. Dolphins live 30 to 50 years in the wild. It’s really indicative of the short lifespan of these animals when in captivity.

Harsh said man-made enclosures can harm the physical and mental well-being of wild animals, especially creatures wired to roam far and wide. Dolphins can hunt and swim at depths of up to 180 feet, they said. The human society from the United States said the highly intelligent and social mammals can travel 80 miles a day, or about 20 times the length of the Las Vegas Strip. “The surface of a reservoir is tiny compared to the ocean,” they said. “It’s like being stuck in a shallow pool.”

The habitat’s four interconnected pools hold 2.2 million gallons of man-made seawater and are lined with palm trees at the Strip hotel known for its tropical theme and faux volcano. The maximum depth of Caribbean blue water is 23 feet.

The company said the main purpose of the attraction was to educate and help with dolphin research. The dolphins do not perform tricks or swim with guests, for example, although visitors who purchase special packages, such as the Meet and Greet experience, can power and take pictures with them. Dave Blasko, executive director of animal care at the Mirage, said the dolphins aren’t coerced with food or treats. If mammals want to swim to say hello, they will; if they don’t they won’t and you just paid $100 for wet feet.

For the science portion of the mission, Blasko cited a project involving a partnership with the Navy to study dolphin hearing and the effect of ship frequencies on wild populations. Darian L. Wilson, director of corporate communications and public affairs for the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, said the Navy Marine Mammal Program does not use dolphins or resort facilities. However, its affiliates share information with the Mirage, particularly data relating to the care and welfare of marine mammals.

“Our team here was saddened to learn of the loss of Dolphin K2 and our condolences go out to the staff there,” Wilson added via email.

Gorillas are Rwanda’s main attraction. Dian Fossey would hate that.

Since 2013, Rae has denounced the company for the inhumane treatment of its dolphins. She publishes photos and descriptions of offenses by Free the Mojave Dolphins, like the chewing gum and chicken nuggets she discovered floating in their habitat. Rae and other activists are also distributing literature about the plight of the dolphins and organizing protests outside the resort. The next, titled “Freedom Matters: Protest captivity at the Mirage Las Vegas!” is tentatively scheduled for November 5.

For many animal welfare advocates, improving the living conditions of dolphins is not enough. They want the animals returned to their wild habitats or housed in a sanctuary where they no longer have to endure puppy pats on the head and selfie photo ops.

They also want to ban the practice of farming wild animals, thus preventing the industry from producing future animal artists. Six of the Mirage’s seven remaining dolphins were born in breeding programs and can never live in the wild.

“It must be a turning point,” Harsh said, referring to the recent tragedy. “We need more wildlife protection, not wildlife exploitation.”

correction

A previous version of this article used incorrect pronouns for Cameron Harsh. This article has been corrected.

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