Technical Report 1549
October 1993 Reintroduction to the Wild as an Option for Managing Navy Marine Mammals R.L. Brill W.A, Friedl


The NRAD study examined the concept of reintroduction and constructed a hypothetical program to meet the objectives. The hypothetical reintroduction program was formulated from data gathered either from contact with selected experts or from NRaD-organized workshops. This information was then fashioned into a planning model that was used to evaluate the reintroduction of marine mammals as a management aid.

Reintroduction is a recognized method for conserving and managing endangered species or for enhancing depleted stocks of nonendangered species. Any reintroduction effort should be scientifically sound, well-prepared, and well-documented.

Most marine mammals in public display and research facilities are not endangered. The experts at the Albuquerque workshop stated that there is no compelling scientific reason to reintroduce marine mammals unless it is to benefit endangered species or locally depleted stocks. The same experts recognized the potential benefits to endangered species that may accrue from developing reintroduction methods and equipment for marine mammals. They recommended that risks, costs, and benefits be assessed before a reintroduction program is started. Given such planning, the Albuquerque experts agreed that reintroduction can be justified as a way to manage excess marine mammals.

The San Diego workshop reviewed the Navy dolphin inventory and identified 15 Navy animals as potential candidates for reintroduction to the wild as of August 1992. The balance of animals would continue to be maintained, with the full commitment and support of the Navy, as part of marine mammal systems programs or in long-term care facilities throughout their lives. Such long-term care and maintenance would also be required for any candidate animals not included in the reintroduction effort or not successfully reintroduced.

The exact number of animals eligible for any specific reintroduction program would ultimately depend on the criteria for selection. For planning purposes, the experts at the San Diego workshop estimated that an initial reintroduction effort for animals excess to Navy needs should involve only 15 dolphins.

If the Navy opted to use reintroduction to the wild as a way to manage some animals that become excess to program needs, two particular requirements would have to be satisfied: reintroduced animals would have to be monitored and animals not reintroduced would have to be maintained. Both workshops recommended monitoring, but indicated that some preliminary research and development is required to provide technology adequate for even a pilot reintroduction effort.

According to the experts at the San Diego workshop, prereintroduction research and development would require a minimum of 2 years. This technical work should be done simultaneously with programmatic development, including efforts to (1) satisfy legal requirements, (2) select candidate animals, and (3) select and develop the prereintroduction site. The major aspects of the research and development effort should be to (1) develop monitoring equipment, (2) develop protocols for conditioning animals, (3) assess wild populations near the prereintroduction site, and (4) determine potential effects of disease transmission on wild and reintroduced animals.

Regardless of whether it opts to utilize reintroduction as an animal management tool, the Navy is firmly committed to providing the best care possible for its marine mammals throughout their lives. Fundamental requirements, therefore, remain for the long-term care and maintenance of any Navy marine mammals that cannot be reintroduced to the wild. Depending on selection criteria, the San Diego workshop indicated that the Navy may be required to maintain 40-45 animals for the duration of their lives. Such requirements and their associated costs must be compared and contrasted with the direct aspects of the reintroduction effort.

A critical aspect of the reintroduction planning model is the requirement to monitor reintroduced animals and to collect data to document the success of the effort. Equipment to adequately monitor freely swimming, reintroduced animals for at least one year does not exist, so certain technical research and development is required before reintroduction begins. Without adequate technology, the requirement to document and evaluate the effort will remain unfulfilled.

The hypothetical plan discussed at the San Diego workshop focuses on the Navy's excess bottlenose dolphins. The plan may also apply to other species of marine mammals, but would need to be tailored to them. 'ne bottlenose dolphin is adaptive and would seem to be an ideal candidate species for reintroduction. If monitoring technology could be developed, the reintroduction effort would become largely a matter of planning, execution, management, and support.

The reintroduction effort requires a multiyear commitment of personnel and resources. The pilot study would last approximately 5 years. Subsequent reintroductions would require at least 2 additional years to execute, monitor, and document. Depending on the number of animals reintroduced annually, the active reintroduction period may require up to 6 years for 15 animals.

The San Diego workshop's hypothetical reintroduction plan assumed a 5-year pilot program followed by subsequent reintroductions. The pilot program period would include the time for developing monitoring equipment and techniques, initiating the program, and conditioning candidate dolphins. The subsequent reintroductions and postreintroduction monitoring would require 2 to 6 years, depending on the number of animals reintroduced annually. The minimum period, 2 years, assumes that all 15 dolphins are reintroduced in the first "program year" and monitored through the following year. The maximum period, 6 years, assumes an average of 3 dolphins reintroduced per year over 5 years and monitoring continuing through the year after the last reintroduction.

NRaD's history and experience in caring for marine mammals indicate that the cost of maintaining all excess dolphins in Navy care is a proximately $2 million per year in FY92 p

dollars. Using the generalized reintroduction model as a base for estimating costs for reintroducing 15 dolphins, the experts at the San Diego workshop predicted that a 5-year pilot study and subsequent reintroductions will exceed the cost of maintaining excess dolphins throughout their lives (i.e., approximately the next 20 years) by at least a factor of two and possibly a factor as high as five.

Reintroduction would not be a cost effective animal management option for the Navy under the conditions described.

The model, plans, and estimates presented in this report are an initial attempt to address the issue of long-term care for Navy marine mammals that are excess to program needs. As such, the model, plans, and estimates are subject to revision as more information germane to reintro-

duction becomes available. It is incumbent upon NRAD to review the model, plans, and estimates and to solicit comments on the plan.

Based on the information in this report, specifically noting that the majority of Navy marine mammals are still active in programs and that a significant number of its marine mammals will never be suitable for reintroduction to the wild, it is recommended that the Navy-

1. Not engage in reintroduction as an option for the management of marine mammals excess to its program requirements, but rather continue to provide all of its marine mammals with the highest quality of care for the duration of their lives.

2. If some compelling reason for the reintroduction of nonendangered marine mammals be identified, reconsider reintroduction as an animal management option only after the concerns raised in this report have been fully and legitimately addressed.

3. As the foremost advocate and repository of marine mammal science and technology, establish reintroduction as an exploratory initiative and foster the research and development of the necessary methods and technologies.

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