USDA has recently published proposed amendments to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations:

concerning the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of marine mammals in captivity. These proposed changes would affect sections in the regulations relating to variances and implementation dates, indoor facilities, outdoor facilities, space requirements, and water quality. We are also proposing to revise the regulations that relate to swim-with-the-dolphin programs.

USDA explains that the regulations, which were originally adopted in 1998 “based on the outcome of meetings of the Marine Mammal Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee” in the absence of significant relevant scientific studies or data, should be amended to incorporate findings from the body of relevant science-based research that has since become available.

Importantly, the proposed amendments include a summary of the history of the AWA, and the Congressional mandate that set forth USDA through the Secretary of Agriculture as the agency authorized to:

promulgate standards and other requirements governing the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of certain animals by dealers, research facilities, exhibitors, carriers, and other regulated entities.

The proposed amendments would

revise swim-with-the-dolphin program regulations, for which enforcement was suspended effective April 2, 1999.

. . .

The proposed standards address interactive program facility space requirements, layout, operations, staffing, recordkeeping, and related matters.

The amendments would also change regulations relating to “water quality and waterborne pathogens affecting marine mammals.”

There are also changes relating to standards for “air and water temperatures, ventilation, and lighting at regulated indoor facilities that house marine mammals.

The amendments relating to “swim with the dolphins” include:

[t]he term ‘‘interactive program’’ replaces ‘‘swim-with-the-dolphin program’’ since we are proposing to no longer use the term ‘‘swim-with-the-dolphin program,’’ as discussed below.

Section 1.1 defines an interactive session to mean a ‘‘swim-with-the-dolphin program session where members of the public enter a primary enclosure to interact with cetaceans.’’

USDA proposes to amend the following issues/animals:

Indoor facilities;

Lighting;

Outdoor facilities;

Space requirements;

General;

Space Requirements—Cetaceans;

Space Requirements—Sirenians;

Space Requirements—Pinnipeds;

Space Requirements—Polar Bears;

Space Requirements—Sea Otters;

Coliform Testing; and

Interactive Programs.

Congress, has empowered USDA to draft regulations regarding and to enforce the AWA.  Organizations and people who are interested in these proposed amendments have an opportunity to provide constructive comments to inform USDA regarding the standards that should be adopted to provide for the humane care of marine mammals.