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Dolphins and Hurricanes: Disaster Planning for Animal Facilities

September 27, 2022 / marine mammals,

Hurricanes' human toll may be horrific, but their devastation goes far beyond the suffering communities we so frequently see on our TV screens. Many other animals are impacted, including all kinds of aquatic creatures. Dolphins, for example, can suffer greatly. In the wild, they can sometimes adapt their behavior to increase their odds of survival — but when housed in facilities, it is up to their human caretakers to prepare accordingly.

The Need for Disaster Preparedness Programs

In the face of a hurricane, humans often receive several hours or even days' notice. As they await major storms, they may have the opportunity to relocate — or at least make their homes as safe and comfortable as possible. Dolphins under managed care don't have this option, however, so they depend on humans to keep them out of harm's way.

Through Hurricanes Irma, Katrina, and Harvey we've learned valuable (albeit, often tragic) lessons about how dolphins can suffer following severe storms. We've also learned that it's impossible to be too prepared. Sadly, facilities that seemed to have prepared thoroughly for previous hurricanes still encountered surprises that left their beloved marine creatures at risk.

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Still, certain measures can dramatically reduce the likelihood of harm in the event of a historically severe hurricane. Disaster planning for animal facilities must encompass options for both relocating animals and staying put. In the event of relocation, staff members should understand exactly where animals will go in the worst-case scenario — and how they'll get there.

Should animals and their handlers ride out the storm, facilities must be strong enough to withstand extreme winds. Backup generators, in particular, are important, as failed generators can make aquarium conditions unlivable for many marine animals. Hardened sites must be available so that staff members can remain near vulnerable dolphins. This allows experts to respond to any unexpected developments quickly to keep dolphins safe as local conditions evolve.

Finally, if dolphins are displaced, resources must be available to quickly find and rescue them. While some have miraculously survived in the wild for multiple weeks following previous hurricanes, we don't want to leave this up to chance. The sooner these dolphins can be rescued, the more likely they are to remain safe.

The Dolphins Plus Commitment to Dolphin Safety

At Dolphins Plus, we are committed to providing the proactive care that our marine friends require. We understand the risks that hurricanes and other storms can pose. We plan for the worst-case scenarios, with the understanding that we'll need to take extra measures to protect vulnerable dolphins when severe weather strikes.

Additionally, we're proud to continue our Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder program. Dedicated to the health and wellbeing of vulnerable aquatic creatures, this program acts as an animal emergency unit. Consisting of the industry's most talented and skilled veterinarians and marine mammal experts, the DPMMR team has a close working relationship with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission.

Recently, the Dolphins Plus team attended an insightful disaster preparedness workshop that brought the brightest minds from the Florida Keys together for much-needed discussions about the inevitable storms of the future. The Protect Wild Dolphins Alliance (PWDA) hosted the event with a grant from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which encouraged the industry's most influential individuals to share details about effective, research-based opportunities for protecting dolphins in years and decades to come.

This workshop once again confirmed our belief that, while Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are certainly at risk as hurricanes grow stronger and more frequent, we have the power to deliver the comprehensive protection they deserve. This commitment is always evident at Dolphins Plus, where we take dolphin safety and wellbeing seriously.

We also believe that public knowledge is power; the more everyday people understand the wide range of threats that today's dolphins face, the more inclined they'll be to support new measures to protect these magnificent creatures. If you'd like to learn more about Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, check out our Dolphins Fact Guide.


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