Harrison County

Petitions opposing Mississippi Aquarium grow

#EmptyTheTanks protest in Gulfport

Charity Buchholtz of Long Beach explains why she and others are protesting against captive dolphins being on display at the Mississippi Aquarium under construction in Gulfport. #EmptyTheTanks protested at 70 locations in 20 countries on Saturday.
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Charity Buchholtz of Long Beach explains why she and others are protesting against captive dolphins being on display at the Mississippi Aquarium under construction in Gulfport. #EmptyTheTanks protested at 70 locations in 20 countries on Saturday.

A petition opposing the Mississippi Aquarium under construction in Gulfport has almost doubled the number of signatures it has collected in the past year.

The Care2 petition asks the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission to keep dolphins out of the $93 million aquarium. It had 176,000 signatures on Wednesday morning. A second petition, also started by former Marine Life trainer Kelly McNab Williams, asks Gov. Phil Bryant not to use BP restoration money to build the aquarium. It had 157,000 signatures.

Mayor Billy Hewes says far more people support the aquarium.

“If anything, the excitement level is higher than ever, now that the public is starting to see the results of years of planning and design with the initial phase of the project build-out,” he said in an email. “The Mississippi Aquarium is being led by a very capable and talented team that and has embraced Gulfport’s vision, leading us to a much-needed family-oriented facility that reflects those values in South Mississippi.”

“The Mississippi Gulf Coast has amazing wild dolphin pods and great opportunities for tourists to see them in their natural habitat,” Williams wrote on the petition and likened the aquarium to a dolphin prison.

“But dolphins aren’t meant to be in captivity. They die from stress-related sicknesses, they fight with other dolphins, and they are forced to perform behaviors they would never exhibit in the wild. Entertainment for tourists doesn’t justify their unnatural treatment.”

Hewes disagreed.

“The care and welfare of animals is of the utmost importance to the Mississippi Aquarium team, which is why we will believe in accreditation from industry organizations,” he said. “Our care of these animals not only allows us to better understand and care for animals in the wild, but also enables us to educate the public on how they can help animals in the wild.

“With the website up, we have had numerous contacts from people wanting to move here and work or volunteer at the facility.”

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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