NewsNortheast Valley NewsScottsdale News


Documents: USDA inspected Dolphinaris Arizona 4 times, no 'critical' violations found

Posted at 5:43 PM, Feb 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-05 18:47:50-05

Since Dolphinaris Arizona opened in 2016, inspectors with the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service -- the agency that oversees the Animal Welfare Act, among many other responsibilities -- have visited the dolphin attraction at least four times to conduct routine inspections.

Those inspections occurred on Oct. 6, 2016, May 26, 2017, Sept. 19, 2017, and, most recently, on July 10, 2018, according to the inspection reports, which are publicly available on the USDA's website.

The reports stated that inspectors found "no non-compliant items" on every one of their visits, which means there were no violations.

The documents themselves do not have a lot of information, however. They note the date of the inspection, who the inspector was, and whether or not there were any violations found.

Dolphinaris Arizona made headlines last week after it announced the death of one of its dolphins, 22-year-old Kai. He is the fourth dolphin to die under the facility's care since it opened.

TIMELINE: 4 dolphin deaths since Dolphinaris opening in 2016

The facility has since launched an investigation, amid questions from the public and protests from animal activists, who say dolphins do not belong in the desert and want the facility to be shut down.

Repeated calls and emails to Dolphinaris have gone unanswered.

On Tuesday, ABC15 visited the property. Representatives declined to go on camera. However, they told ABC15 that since Dolphin Quest ended its contract with them, they don't want to answer any further questions just yet, because they want to make sure their answers are factual.

The representatives said they are concerned and care greatly about the dolphins.

They said their employees have received an increase in death threats since Kai's death, and the facility has had to increase security.

Dolphinaris is on tribal land, however a spokesperson with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community has referred all questions to Dolphinaris.


Bodie: The male bottlenose dolphin died on Sept. 23, 2017, from a "rare muscle disease," the facility said.

Alia: The female bottlenose dolphin died on May 22, 2017, from an "acute bacterial infection" that "spread quickly through her body," the facility said.

Khloe: The female bottlenose dolphin died on Dec. 31, 2018, from a "chronic illness due to a parasite called Sarcocystis," the facility said.

Kai: The male bottlenose dolphin was euthanized on Jan. 31, 2019, after he showed signs of "difficulty swimming, eating and breathing" and his health continued to decline, the facility said. A necropsy (an animal autopsy) is pending and the results have not been released.

ABC15 has requested the necropsy results, when they are available, from the USDA.


According to the USDA's website, inspectors "conduct unannounced inspections of every licensed or registered facility in the country."

During an inspection, "the APHIS inspector must be given full access to all areas where regulated animals are kept as well as to all records required under the AWA and regulations," such as "observing regulated animals; inspecting the facilities, including enclosure or housing materials and space, as well as food storage; and reviewing records, such as animal acquisition records, medical records, and necropsy reports." You can read more about inspections here.

If there are issues, they will be documented and addressed with the owner or manager. The owner will also be given a timeline of when to fix the issues.

Repeat violations could result in fines, a warning letter, the suspension or revocation of license, or confiscation of animals, the USDA's website said.

However, not all violations may appear on an inspection report.

According to the USDA, if a facility notices a non-critical problem during its own inspection and "immediately takes appropriate corrective action and swiftly establishes measures to prevent recurrence", it may not appear on a report.

If the facility notices a critical violation outside a routine inspection and self-reports it, and it is not considered to be a repeat offense and takes quick action to fix it, it may not appear on an inspection report.

Last week, a spokesperson for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said it was aware of Kai's death, but was unable to comment further as the agency was discussing its next course of action.

Christian Schaeffer, the general manager at Dolphinaris Arizona, said in a statement last week, the deaths of four dolphins is "abnormal" and the facility has launched an investigation.

"We recognize losing four dolphins over the last year and a half is abnormal," he said. "Over the last several years we have worked with a team of external experts in the fields of animal behavior, water quality and veterinary care to ensure our dolphin family remains healthy. We will be taking proactive measures to increase our collaborative efforts to further ensure our dolphins' wellbeing and high quality of life."


On Saturday, Dolphin Quest, a company that offers swim-with-dolphin experiences in Hawaii and Bermuda, announced that it had loaned Kai, and two others dolphins, to Dolphinaris, and, as a result of Kai's death, terminated its agreement with them. It is now "evaluating next steps for the remaining two Dolphin Quest animals."