Desert Dolphin Death and Fuzzy Math

MGM Resorts International has announced the death of ‘Beetle’, a 12-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin who died in Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat on October 27th. On a breeding loan from SeaWorld, The Mirage Hotel and Casino indicated that the male dolphin had been ill a few days before his death. The cause of Beetle’s death remains unspecified.

Beetle exhibits stereotypical behaviors by gate chewing. Image: Free the Mojave Dolphins.

Beetle exhibits stereotypical behaviors by gate chewing. Image: Free the Mojave Dolphins.

Unfortunately, The Mirage of Las Vegas has one of the worst records for dolphin deaths in the United States. In 2008, a report named, “Dying to Entertain You,” by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), identified a 70% mortality rate amongst the hotel’s dolphins. Twelve out of 18 dolphins had died it said since the habitat opened in 1990. Seven years on, the mortality rate is still estimated at around 60 percent.

MGM Resorts spokeswoman Yvette Monet named Beetle as the 10th dolphin to die at The Mirage since it began operations, but in a press release, dolphin advocate group ‘Free the Mojave Dolphins‘, argued that Beetle was actually the thirteenth dolphin to die at the facility.

In reality, the young male’s death may just be number fifteen.

“Officially” and according to the Marine Mammal Inventory Report at Ceta-Base.com, there are 12 dolphin deaths on record for The Mirage, which would jibe with advocates’ beliefs and make Beetle, death number thirteen.

Screenshot of the Marine Mammal Inventory Report at Ceta-Base.com

Screenshot of the Marine Mammal Inventory Report at Ceta-Base.com

But past news articles hint at a different number.

In June 2009 for example, Amanda Finnegan wrote in the ‘Las Vegas Sun‘:

Sgt. Pepper is the 14th dolphin to die at the Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat since the attraction opened in 1990. Five of the 14 dolphins were stillborn or died shortly after birth.

Finnegan also referenced this article published one-year earlier than hers but in the same newspaper, crediting MGM company spokesman Gordon Absher with the following:

Absher says 13 dolphins have died at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat since the attraction opened with five dolphins in 1990.

He says that number included five that were stillborn or died shortly after birth.

If Absher is accurate, then Sgt. Pepper was the 14th dolphin to die at the resort and Beetle is number fifteen.

Accompanying Absher’s statement at the time it was published was a comment offered by Yvette Monet on Sgt. Pepper’s death. Neither Absher nor Monet appears to have corrected the original math, which makes Monet’s statement that Beetle was the 10th dolphin to die at The Mirage, a numerical nightmare or some #fuzzydolphinmath.

Given the abysmal history of dolphin deaths at The Mirage — the facility has been referred to as the dolphin death pool in the past, would management not take issue with this substantial discrepancy? Fifteen deaths are again reported by the ‘Las Vegas Review-Journal‘ in a recent article published Nov. 4th. But perhaps it is that the five stillborn/early dolphin deaths, simply do not count to The Mirage?

What cannot be argued with, is that Beetle died way before his prime years age. Shelly Rae, the founder and director of Free the Mojave Dolphins has echoed concerns over the young male for quite some time.

In a press release, Rae’s group argued that Beetle was documented on multiple occasions logging motionless at the gates or chewing on them:

The Mirage put a kayak in the tank to keep Beetle from chewing … he chewed through that as well.

Free the Mojave Dolphins say this kayak was used to prevent Beetle from chewing on the gates. Image/Terran Baylor

This kayak says Free the Mojave Dolphins, was used to prevent Beetle from chewing on the gates. Image: Terran Baylor

Stereotypy or abnormal, stereotypical behavior, is well-documented in captive facilities. Says Born Free:

If the captive environment does not cater for the species-specific needs of the animal, there can be a deterioration in both physical and mental health such as the development of abnormal behaviour, disease and even early mortality.

Beetle’s repetitive behavior was also captured in this video by sound recordist Martyn Stewart:

Rae’s group also highlighted a routine inspection last June in whichThe Mirage was cited by the USDA for non-compliance over sanitation.

Image: Free the Mojave Dolphins

Image: Free the Mojave Dolphins

Although the citation may not have any bearing on Beetle’s death, The Mirage has courted controversy for years over its dolphin habitat. Recently, Joe Rogan, stand-up comedian, actor, martial artist, and sports commentator refused to perform there, arguing, “people know I hate dolphins in captivity, it’s nuts.”

The young dolphin’s death hit Rae particularly hard. “It breaks my heart that after nearly three years of urging The Mirage to provide better care for their dolphins, Beetle lost his life at such a young age.”

RIP Beetle.

Featured Image: Beetle exhibits stereotypical behaviors by gate chewing/Free the Mojave Dolphins.

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About Elizabeth Batt

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Elizabeth is a freelance writer, a former large animal nurse and a former certified NREMT. She is passionate about the ocean and its inhabitants and her work focuses on cetacean-related issues, including captive whales and dolphins. She graduated in psychology and sociology and lives with her family in beautiful northwestern Montana.

Author: Elizabeth Batt
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