The Vegas Dolphin Death Pool

The Reality of the Mirage in the Mojave Desert

By: Cecilia Mialon
Free The Mojave Dolphins

Free the Mojave Dolphins, a Facebook group focusing on spreading awareness of the captive dolphins at The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, holds regular demonstrations and events, but the plight of these dolphins needs more attention to this disturbing situation. 

The mirage in the middle of the Mojave Desert isn’t a mirage at all.  It’s reality.  Dolphins are dying regularly, right before our very eyes, and MGM Entertainment needs to hear about it and retire these dolphins to a sea pen sanctuary.

This mirage isn’t the tropical paradise where tourists come to relax and play like it alludes to.  This mirage is the illusion of happy gambling tourists, world renowned restaurants, large entertainment productions, spas and swim-with-dolphins.  One common reality among all of these attractions…it’s REALLY HOT here.

The dolphins of the Mirage Hotel. Las Vegas from Martyn Stewart on Vimeo.

An inescapable heat 

In the middle of the intensely hot sun, dry desert air and pollution lies a manufactured strip of massive hotel casinos and resorts.  Each has their own illusions.  From Paris and Italy to New York and Polynesia, Las Vegas is the epitome of an optical illusion.  People from all over the world come to partake in this illusion.  When a cab drives by with an advertisement of dolphins at The Mirage Casino, most people have to look twice.

Most tourists aren’t even aware that there are currently ten dolphins swimming in circles, waiting listlessly at closed gates, beaching themselves, bored and stressed beyond comprehension right here, in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  Tropical marine mammals in the middle of the desert, thousands of miles away from their natural home in the Atlantic Ocean, may be a surprise to many, but their well-being will also come as a surprise as well.  They truly have been dying to entertain…for the past two decades.


Dolphins at the Mirage waiting at the gate.  Photo courtesy of Free the Mojave Dolphins.

Dolphins at the Mirage waiting at the gate. Photo courtesy of Free the Mojave Dolphins.


A twenty-four year sentence

The Polynesian themed resort known as ‘The Mirage’ has been keeping dolphins captive for the past twenty-four years.  Twenty-Two dolphins have been confined to a life of unnatural and tragic existence since the “habitat” opening in 1990.  Twelve have perished including babies and four wild caught.  That’s an astonishing 55% death rate giving the facility the nickname of “The Dolphin Death Pool”. 

Here is a list of the dolphins that have died there since its opening in 1990:

* Rascal – age 4 – Death unknown
* Darla – age 18 – Died from chronic pancreatitis
* Squirt – age 15 – Died from respiratory ailment
* Picabo – age 18 – Died suddenly from internal tear in its stomach
* Bugsy – age 3 – Died from pulmonary abscess
* No name – Stillborn
* No name – 2 week old calf – died from pulmonary edema
* Sigma – age 32 – Died from heart failure
* Banjo – age 32 – Died from heart failure
* Merlin – age 40 (estimate) – died from pneumonia
* Sage – age 11 – death unknown
* St. Pepper – age 2 – lung infection

The causes for such a high mortality rate is due mainly to stress related diseases and perhaps the extreme summer temperatures as high as 118 degrees.  We’ll never know exactly how this facility has failed to keep these dolphins alive.  It could be that there’s no permanent shade against the sweltering desert sun.  It may be foreign debris that finds its way past the 16 inch barricade between the viewing public and the dolphin tanks. 



Dolphin showing signs of poxvirus.  Photo courtesy of Free the Mojave Dolphins.

Dolphin showing signs of poxvirus. Photo courtesy of Free the Mojave Dolphins.


Many of the ten existing dolphins show obvious signs of stress.  Poxvirus, a disease which would normally go into remission, runs rampant among the dolphins likely due to their soaring anxiety.   From lying listless at the gates, beaching themselves, chasing one another aggressively and being confined to barely legal enclosures, the signs are too obvious to ignore.  On the overhead speakers, patrons are repeatedly advised to view the pool where dolphins are being actively trained to not call attention to the obvious signs of compulsive and methodical behavior these dolphins show on a regular basis.  There is no way to adequately duplicate any form of natural environment for dolphins in captivity, but the Mirage stands out for its poor facilities.

Nowhere to hide

This facility has been able to glide through their US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspections un-noticed.  One pool in particular is within the meager USDA guidelines by one foot to house three dolphins.  There’s no permanent shade structure; therefore the dolphins have no option for shade from the desert sun from 11:30am-4:30pm in the center and back pools. 

While patrons participating in the “Trainer-For-A-Day” Program partake in some dolphin free fun in the pool, four of the largest male dolphins are moved into a tiny channel to wait.  The underwater viewing area is not supervised nor is there anything posted to stop patrons from continually harassing the dolphins by banging and tapping on the glass.  There are no educational brochures handed out, and the employees spit out little tidbits of generic and mostly useless information about each dolphin and how wonderful their circus tricks are.

It isn’t surprising that speaking to the head honchos of MGM that they are minimally informed on what really goes on at the dolphin exhibit at The Mirage and as of now, they have no plans to close it down or stop its breeding program.


One of the growing monthly protests outside the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.

One of the growing monthly protests outside the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.


A voice for the Voiceless

We at Free The Mojave Dolphins urge you to use your words, your deeds and your conviction to put an end to these cruel illusions once and for all.   Join our page for upcoming events and updates on what’s happening with this sad situation.  We have some exciting events coming up, and we need your help to put the pressure on MGM.  Their CEO Jim Murren is a known preacher of education and doing what’s “right”.  Maybe all he needs is some education to make the right decision?  These dolphins don’t belong in small chlorinated pools in Florida, or Texas or California.  They certainly don’t belong in the desert of Nevada.

You can use this letter template to send to MGM asking them to shut down the “Dolphin Death Pool” once and for all. 


Or write your own polite letter or send an email to:

Yvette Monet
MGM Resorts Public Affairs
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
[email protected]

[email protected]

Contact the Mirage directly



Sign these Petitions! 






Thanks for your support for the dolphins in Las Vegas!

Photos courtesy of Free the Mojave Dolphins.

Don't be shellfish...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditBuffer this pageShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page

About Ric O'Barry

View All Posts

Ric O’Barry, Dolphin Project Founder & Director has worked on both sides of the captive dolphin issue, making him an invaluable asset in the efforts to end exploitation. He worked for 10 years within the dolphin captivity industry, and has spent the past 40 working against it.

In the 1960s, O’Barry was employed by the Miami Seaquarium, where he captured and trained dolphins, including the five dolphins who played the role of Flipper in the popular American TV-series of the same name. He also trained Hugo, the first orca kept in captivity east of the Mississippi. When Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper most of the time, died in his arms, O’Barry realized that capturing dolphins and training them to perform silly tricks is simply wrong.

From that moment on, O’Barry knew what he must do with his life. On the first Earth Day, 1970, he launched a searing campaign against the multi-billion dollar dolphin captivity industry and has been going at it ever since.

Over the past 40 years, Ric O’Barry has rescued and rehabilitated dolphins in many countries around the world, including Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Bahamas Islands and the United States. He is a leading voice in the fight to end brutal dolphin hunts in Japan, the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, and wherever else they occur.

O’Barry has been recognized by many national and international entities for his dedicated efforts, such as being voted Huffington Post’s 2010 Most Influential Green Game Changer, and being listed on O Magazine’s 2010 Power List – Men We Admire for his “Power of Passion.” O’Barry received an Environmental Achievement Award, presented by the United States Committee for the United Nations Environmental Program. He has done countless interviews with such prestigious news programs as Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360, the Mike Huckabee Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

His book Behind the Dolphin Smile was published in 1989; a second book, To Free A Dolphin was published in September 2000. Both of them are about his work and dedication. He is the star of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove and the Animal Planet television series Blood Dolphin$.

Author: Ric O'Barry


Lost your password?