Las Vegas Casino Closes Dolphin Exhibit After 3 Animals Die In 6 Months

The Mirage's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat is temporarily closed while it investigates the dolphin deaths.

The Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas announced it would temporarily close its dolphin attraction in the wake of a third dolphin death this year.

The Mirage’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat currently has no reopening date scheduled, a spokesperson told The Washington Post.

An 11-year-old male bottlenose dolphin named K2 died Sept. 24 of what the Mirage said was a respiratory illness. A necropsy is pending.

“K2 was very vocal, energetic, loved his toys and was a joy to be around,” Franz Kallao, Mirage’s interim president, wrote in a staff memo obtained by The Post. “He always made us smile.”

An Atlantic bottlenose dolphin at the Mirage in 2008. sticks its head out of the water at The Mirage Hotel & Casino during a visit by
An Atlantic bottlenose dolphin at the Mirage in 2008. sticks its head out of the water at The Mirage Hotel & Casino during a visit by
Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Cirque du Soleil

Eleven is a relatively young age for bottlenose dolphins, which can live at least 40 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some females live even longer, into their sixties.

Earlier this month, a 19-year-old male dolphin named Maverick died at the Mirage after being treated for a lung infection. A 13-year-old female bottlenose dolphin, Bella, died in April of gastroenteritis.

Seven bottlenose dolphins remain at the exhibit, National Geographic reported. The attraction is also home to leopards, lions, tigers, a sloth, a cockatoo and hundreds of fish.

The business is working with veterinarians and other experts to “conduct a thorough review and inspection of both the animals and the facilities,” Kallao told the Associated Press.

Three Atlantic bottlenose dolphins jump out of the water at The Mirage Hotel & Casino in 2008.
Three Atlantic bottlenose dolphins jump out of the water at The Mirage Hotel & Casino in 2008.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Cirque du Soleil

The attraction advertises itself as a place for visitors to “come face-to-face” with animals. Guests can pay extra for experiences like feeding the dolphins, posing for photos, and even painting with them. Dave Blasko, the Mirage’s director of animal care, told The Post that the dolphins are not coerced into interacting with people.

But some animal welfare advocates have long argued that dolphins ― highly intelligent animals that have complex social structures and can swim up to 100 miles a day in the wild ― should not be kept in captivity.

A woman participates in a yoga class near a window looking into the Mirage's dolphin habitat in 2017.
A woman participates in a yoga class near a window looking into the Mirage's dolphin habitat in 2017.
John Locher via AP

The Mirage, in particular, has also been a target of criticism, especially following a series of deaths in the late ’90s and early 2000s that led to activists at the time dubbing it the “Dolphin Death Pool,” Las Vegas dolphin advocate Shelly Rae told The Post.

In 2017, the facility received a “Humane Certified” designation from the nonprofit American Humane (not to be confused with The Humane Society of the United States, which opposes dolphin captivity). However, the certification was controversial, with dolphin advocacy nonprofit The Dolphin Project publishing an op-ed blasting the designation as “nothing but an illusion.”

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