Laurie J. Gage, DVM, DACZM
Facilities that are licensed with the United States Department of Agriculture must be in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. USDA APHIS Animal Care lists specifications for the humane handling, care, treatment and transportation of marine mammals in Subpart E in the Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations, Part 3—Standards.
Common questions about the regulations governing marine mammals include questions about facilities, feeding, water quality, employees, veterinary care, separation, and space requirements. Indoor facilities must be properly ventilated and have ample lighting. Both indoor and outdoor facilities must be able to have the means to regulate the water temperature in a range that meets the specific needs of the species contained. Space requirements are specific to the species maintained and must be calculated utilizing the charts included in the Animal Welfare Regulations. Animal health and husbandry standards are clearly stated. The section on feeding includes how fish should be stored and that it must be stored in freezers that are maintained at maximum temperatures of 18°C (0°F) and that fish thawed under refrigeration must be fed to the marine mammals within 24 h of thawing. Water quality standards include bacterial standards, the addition of chemicals to the water, the frequency necessary for testing pH and any chemical additives, the necessity of water quality records, salinity requirements and filtration. Employees must be adequately trained and work in concert with the attending veterinarian to maintain the prescribed level of husbandry set forth in Subpart E. Marine mammals known to be primarily social in the wild must be housed in their primary enclosure with at least one compatible animal of the same or biologically related species. Animals housed separately must have a written plan approved by the attending veterinarian that includes the justification for the length of time the animal will be kept separated or isolated, information on the type and frequency of enrichment and interaction and provisions for periodic review of the plan by the attending veterinarian. Veterinary care regulations include requirements for isolation or quarantine of newly acquired marine mammals, holding facilities, detailed medical records, and necropsies. Detailed transportation standards are also included in the Animal Welfare Regulations.