GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies has come under fire from an animal rights group called In Defense of Animals claiming it and nine other aquariums are some of the worst tanks for dolphins and whales in North America.
IMMS Executive Director Dr. Moby Solangi said his agency has been running for decades with the best experts providing research and education, and they simply don't belong on that list.
On Wednesday, campers from the Jewish Community Center in New Orleans, LA watched the dolphin demonstration while listening to facts about the marine animals at IMMS. It's those demonstrations that have the animal rights group up in arms over the treatment of the marine life at the facility.
In a statement released by the group, IMMS is listed as one of the 10 worst tanks for dolphins and whales and is being called a "dolphin prison."
"They don't go willingly, and they are confined to live in these facilities, to live in circles for the rest of their life," said Dr. Toni Frohoff, with IDA.
According to IDA, the dolphins are treated more as circus performers than as subjects in research. It also targets Solangi, saying he's been the subject of extensive public criticism "due to alleged accounts of inadequate care for cetaceans."
Solangi said those claims are false and misleading since the animals are given the best care possible while being fed and exercised daily.
"We really do meaningful work, and I think it is unfortunate when people criticize things that they don't know much about," said Solangi.
He said much of what is learned here while caring for the sick, injured, and stranded marine mammals has helped state and federal agencies better manage the species.
"We've conducted very pioneering research on dolphins in the wild and also animals in our care. I've been published, and for them to say that we don't do that is misleading and wrong," said Solangi.
Despite the scathing report, Solangi remains confident his facility is offering the best care to animals while conducting significant marine life research.
Solangi said of the nine marine mammals there, two are retired from military work, one was stranded, and six others were orphaned.
For decades, IMMS has been subject to various regulations from agencies like the USDA, NOAA, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Solangi said they are in compliance with all of them.
IDA has suggested IMMS relocate the dolphins to a sanctuary.