(Reuters) - Baltimore's National Aquarium will create the first U.S. dolphin sanctuary and transfer its eight dolphins there, the aquarium said on Tuesday.
The move comes after five years of study and as the U.S. public has grown increasingly uneasy about keeping dolphins and whales in captivity, Chief Executive John Racanelli said in a statement.
"The way a society treats its animals with whom it shares the planet speaks volumes about us," he said.
Creating the outdoor, seawater sanctuary poses a challenge since all but one of the colony of six female and two male dolphins was born in an aquarium or a zoo, Racanelli said. One female, Nani, was born in the wild in 1972.
The dolphins will also have to learn how to be ocean-dwelling creatures. The site will be much larger than the dolphins' current habitat, and it will have more natural stimuli, such as fish and marine plants.
"Humans will care for and interact with the dolphins for their entire lives," Racanelli said.
A team is weighing potential sites in Florida and the Caribbean Sea, Racanelli said. He gave no estimate of the cost.
The nonprofit National Aquarium resolved not to collect dolphins from the wild in 1993. Its board voted in 2011 never to collect cetaceans, such as whales and dolphins, from the wild and pledged it would oppose those who did.
Creation of a dolphin sanctuary by the nonprofit National Aquarium comes three months after SeaWorld Entertainment Inc said it would halt breeding killer whales in its parks, bowing to pressure from animal rights activists.
The National Aquarium is one of Baltimore's major tourism draws, attracting 1.3 million visitors last year, according to its website.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson, editing by G Crosse)