Dolphins keep dying at Las Vegas attraction. What will happen to the seven still there?

MGM Resorts

It started in April, when 13-year-old Bella died after having treatment for gastroenteritis, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Then in early September, 19-year-old Maverick died after treatment for a lung infection. Over the weekend, a third bottlenose dolphin died at the Siegfried & Roy Mirage Secret Garden and Habitat, the outlet reported.

The dolphin who died on Saturday, Sept. 24 was 11-year-old K2, according to a memo shared with employees at the Mirage resort and hotel on the Las Vegas strip. In the memo, also shared with McClatchy News, interim Mirage president Franz Kallao wrote that K2 had been receiving treatment for a respiratory illness, and said veterinary and pathology experts are working to figure out what caused K2’s death.

The Secret Garden and Habitat is an attraction run by the Mirage hotel and resort where visitors can interact with exotic wildlife, including the dolphins, white tigers, and white lions and leopards, according to a description on TripAdvisor. It opened in 1990.

The seven remaining dolphins, one male and six females, won’t be relocated or retired from their performing careers, a spokesperson for MGM Resorts International told McClatchy News. But the dolphins, and the human team, will get an extended break. MGM Resorts closed the Mirage Secret Garden and Habitat to investigate K2’s death and inspect the facility, the statement says. The attraction’s website lists the closure as being through Oct. 9.

“I cannot stress enough that nothing is more important to us than the health, safety and welfare of the animals entrusted in our care,” the statement says. “There are no words that can adequately describe the pain that all of us feel.”

“Veterinary, water quality, behavioral, animal welfare, and environmental experts” will inspect “both the animals and the facility”, Kallao said in the statement.

Bottlenose dolphins raised in captivity have an average life expectancy of 28 or 29 years, according to the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, an international accrediting body for marine mammal attractions. Survival rates in U.S. zoological facilities increased over the last few decades, and dolphins in U.S. zoos and aquariums today can live as long as or sometimes even longer than dolphins in the wild, the Alliance said.

Still, animal rights activists used the situation at the Vegas attraction to plead for the dolphins’ immediate release. Several Twitter users shared a tweet by the Dolphin Project, a nonprofit that advocates against dolphin captivity and strives to “end dolphin exploitation and slaughter,” according to their website.

“We are saddened to hear that K2 passed away this weekend,” The Dolphin Project’s tweet states. “This is the 3rd dolphin death at The Mirage since April, with the deaths of Maverick and Bella. We sincerely hope that the remaining dolphins are retired to a sanctuary in the near [future].”

Barbara J King, an anthropologist who writes and speaks about how animals grieve, said on Twitter. “I hope the need for the surviving dolphins to be rescued from this place is clear,” she wrote.

Before he got sick, K2 was “vocal, energetic, loved his toys and was a joy to be around,” Kallao said in the statement. “He always made us smile.”

Kallao wrote that animal health and care teams who cared for the dolphins every day were crushed by the loss, especially those who watched poolside as he was born.

“They saw with relief when he took his first breath. They watched him grow and learn, from an infant to an adolescent and finally to an adult,” he wrote.

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