Animal Care, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Riverdale, MD, USA
The United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) began the process of updating the standards for marine mammals in 1993. These Animal Welfare Act (AWA) standards are found in Title 9, Code of Federal Regulations,1 Chapter 1, Part 3, sections 3.100–3.118. The USDA APHIS published the last proposed rule to complete the update on February 3, 2016. This rule was open to public comment for 90 days.
The history of updating the marine mammal standards is long and complex, starting with the formation of a Federal Advisory Committee to undertake a formal negotiated rulemaking process to begin the journey. At the time, this was a novel approach for USDA APHIS to take for rulemaking. The successful completion of this process resulted in the consensus language used to update 13 of the 18 sections of the marine mammal standards. The more traditional rulemaking process of proposed rule-public comment-final rule was implemented to complete the process. Developing a science-based proposed rule involves numerous steps, including research, drafting of a proposal, APHIS clearance and Departmental clearance, economic analysis, Office of Management and Budget review, and comments from other federal agencies associated with the content of the rule.
This last of the proposed rules for completing the updating of Subpart E includes the sections on variances, indoor and outdoor facilities, water quality, space requirements (without changing the actual pool size requirements), and interactive programs also known as swim-with-the-dolphin programs. Wherever possible, the proposed changes are based on scientific data and the experience of the USDA APHIS inspectors, specialists, and policy staff. The proposed rule will address new water quality bacteriological standards, the need for natural or full-spectrum lighting, limits on humidity and standards for ventilation. In addition, the space tables are revamped to be more informative and user friendly, and pools for pinnipeds, sea otters, and polar bears need to provide for easy entrance and exit for young, old, or infirm animals. Shade requirements are clarified and, as is often the case in old publications, typographical errors are removed. The new interactive program section is designed to acknowledge the use of species other than bottlenose dolphins, and to streamline the recordkeeping and veterinary care requirements for these programs.
The proposed changes have been designed to ensure and improve the welfare of marine mammals under the AWA. All comments submitted to USDA APHIS will be reviewed and considered in the development of the final rule for these sections. The public comment period is everyone's chance to contribute to the continued care of these marine animals that capture public awareness and engender widespread public interest.
* Presenting author
1. 9 Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 1, Subchapter A (Animal Welfare), §§1.1–4.11. Revised as of January 1, 2015, Office of the Federal Register.