Amphitrite & Thetis are moving!
SAN FRANCISCO––Amphitrite and Thetis are moving. Kept in an admittedly undersized tank at the Steinhart Aquarium since 1975 and 1978, respectively, the two female Pacific whitesided dolphins will join others of their kind at a state-of-the-art oceanarium elsewhere “within three to nine months,” new Steinhart director Robert Jenkins told ANIMALS 24-7 in early March 1995.
“It’s not a question of if, or when,” Jenkins added. “It’s just a matter of completing the logistics.”
One big unknown is the length of time it will take to again sling-train the dolphins.
“They’ve been sling-trained before, and they’ll remember,” Jenkins said. “But they may need practice before they’re ready to leave.”
Not candidates for release due to age
With a background including 13 years at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, following experience at Marineland of Florida and Sea World, Jenkins was at the Steinhart less than two and a half weeks before deciding that Amphitrite and Thetis need more space.
Amphitrite, 26, was captured for the Steinhart in 1975. Thetis, 24, was donated by the U.S. Navy in 1978.
“Amphitrite and Thetis received some environmental enrichment through the work of Dr. Hal Markowitz and his graduate students at San Francisco State University,” said San Francisco SPCA ethical studies coordinator Pamela Rockwell, who worked with Jenkins and former Steinhart director John McCosker in developing the relocation strategy.
“They experimented with different apparatus that would allow the dolphins to ‘order’ things they want, like fish, toys, and strokes from humans. These programs were, however, discontinued last spring: the students graduated and Dr. Markowitz is battling a serious illness.”
Only two other facilities in the U.S. have Pacific whitesided dolphins, Sea World San Antonio and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Sea World San Antonio appears to be Amphitrite and Thetis’ most likely destination, having extensive outdoor tanks, a large mixed-sex pod, and the only record of successfully breeding Pacific whitesided dolphins in captivity––although one of the Shedd group is now pregnant.
Apparently eliminated from consideration was Marine World Africa USA, which had hoped to acquire Amphitrite and Thetis after housing them temporarily several years ago while the Steinhart underwent renovations.
Shedd loses a dolphin
Pathology tests released on March 16, 1995 indicate Quitz died of erysipelas blood poisoning, probably caused by eating frozen fish contaminated with erysipelas bacteria. According to Shedd chief marine mammal trainer Ken Ramirez, the bacteria is common in fish and rarely harms marine mammals, either in the wild or in captivity––though outbreaks have been associated with some whale strandings.
Quitz had been scheduled for a medical checkup, but was found dead the night before it was to take place.
“We pulled him up to the surface,” Ramirez said, “but he had already passed away. We were in shock. It wasn’t as if we had been dealing with an animal who had been sick. It was like losing a member of our family.”
Ramirez said the Shedd dolphins and belugas are fed only restaurant-grade fish. All of them ate fish from the same batches, but no others were affected. A vaccination exists to prevent erysipelas poisoning, but the Shedd doesn’t use it, Ramirez said, because “The risk of using the inoculation,” originally developed for use on pigs, “was more severe than the risk of marine mammals contracting the disease.”
The only U.S. aquarium to take cetaceans from the wild since 1990, and one of just two to capture any since 1987, the Shedd has now lost four of the 16 it has acquired––including another male Pacific whitesided dolphin, who died at a holding facility in 1988, 46 days after capture, and two beluga whales, who died within minutes of each other after deworming on September 22, 1992.
More than 40 members of Illinois Animal Action, Voice for Wildlife, the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition (now called Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, abbreviated SHARK), picketed the Shedd on February 26.
Sources within the San Francisco philanthropic community indicate that McCosker became amenable to moving the dolphins when it became apparent that Markowitz would not be able to resume his studies. McCosker and Rockwell had worked together since December on a tentative relocation strategy, but McCosker left the decision to proceed up to his successor.
Rockwell became involved in November 1994 when ANIMALS 24-7 forwarded to the SF/SPCA a note from subscriber Janice Garnett, of Venice, Florida, who became concerned about the dolphins after visiting the Steinhart.
Rockwell, a specialist in negotiated problem solving, contacted the Steinhart to see what could be done.
The situation was delicate, the ANIMALS 24-7 sources said. Although the Steinhart announced years ago that Amphitrite and Thetis would not be replaced upon their deaths, senior CAS officials were said to have become skeptical of relocation as an option when the Humane Society of the U.S. failed to follow through on a pledge to find them a better home. Demonstrations led by local anti-captivity activists meanwhile put McCosker and the Steinhart in a no-win situation.
Amphitrite and Thetis move to Sea World San Antonio
ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton passed Garnett’s letter to San Francisco SPCA ethical studies coordinator Pam Rockwell, who learned that the dolphins, named Amphitrite and Thetis, had been in a tank only 25% of the legal minimum size since 1975 and 1978, respectively, sharing the space with four harbor seals whom local stranding rescuers judged unsuitable for return to the wild.
Working with former Steinhart director John McCosker, now retired, and his successor, Bob Jenkins, who began his career with Sea World and readily agreed to the transfer, Rockwell found ways around political obstacles created in part by past anti-dolphin captivity protests at the Steinhart.
Technical problems were resolved by advisors Joe Giraci, Sam Ridgeway, and Bruce Stephens.