The world’s leading dolphin experts highlight plight of animals held in European zoos and urge all European nations to phase out dolphin captivity for public entertainment.
(Brussels, 4 March 2015) – Today, whale and dolphin experts from across the world have launched a new initiative at the European Parliament to raise awareness about the exploitation of hundreds of captive whales and dolphins in Europe’s 33 captive facilities, located in 15 EU countries.
The Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition, consisting of 19 NGOs from 11 countries, are calling upon European citizens, Euro-Parliamentarians and Member State governments to end captive dolphin shows and interactive sessions which, they assert, exploit the animals and compromise their welfare.
Daniel Turner, EU Policy Coordinator for the Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition and Programmes Manager for Born Free Foundation, explains, “In our view, the scientific evidence is conclusive. The keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity, where they are trained to perform unnatural behaviours, not only distorts the natural attributes of these highly intelligent, social animals, but is also known to compromise the animal’s physical and mental health. The Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition will provide an influential platform from where profound concerns and compelling evidence can be placed before EU Institutions, in the hope that our vision of a Dolphinaria-Free Europe can become a reality.”
Keith Taylor, a UK Member of the European Parliament, and one of the co-hosts of the launch added, “I fully support the objectives of the Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition. To confine creatures such as whales, dolphins and porpoise which are used to roaming large territories to live in small pools – all in the name of public entertainment – is cruel. Denying these intelligent animals’ sufficient space and complexity causes them to develop abnormal behaviour and heightened aggression as, for example, shown in the film ‘Blackfish’. This is why I want to see an end to cetacean captivity.”
In the EU, 32 of the 33 facilities are regulated by national zoo laws in the State where they are located and by EC Directive 1999/22, relating to the keeping of wild animals in zoos (also known as “The Zoos Directive”), requiring all dolphinaria to make demonstrable commitments to species conservation, public education and higher standards of animal welfare. A recent report, commissioned by ENDCAP entitled, Dolphinaria – A review of the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity in the European Union and EC Directive 1999/22, relating to the keeping of wild animals in zoos (WDC, 2nd Ed 2015) highlighted the fact that 15 (out of 28 States that kept captive dolphins at the time of publication) contravened the terms of EU Zoos Directive and largely failed to meet their legal obligations under national law.
Marco Affronte, Member of the European Parliament, who co-sponsored today’s event, said, “The dolphinarium in my home city of Rimini, Italy, has just been closed for failing to comply with national zoo law. There is really no excuse, if dolphinaria cannot adequately provide whales and dolphins with their physical and behaviour needs, there is no longer a place for these attractions in the European Union”, concluded Affronte. “Emphasis must be given to the protection of these animals in the wild, not their incarceration in captivity.”
The Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition will be challenging the captive dolphin industry throughout Europe: investigating malpractice; exposing non-compliance; and seeking the closure of captive facilities that only exploit their animals as objects of entertainment in meaningless shows and interactive activities.
Press should contact: Daniel Turner on +44 (0)1403 240 170 or +44 (0)7920 195594
CAPTIVE CETACEAN WELFARE AND STATUS IN THE EU
- Restrictive space: The largest captive facilities are a fraction of the size of the natural home ranges of whales, dolphins and porpoises (commonly referred to as cetaceans) (Tyack, 2009). Orcas, for example, may travel as far as 150 kilometres in a day, whilst the largest orca tank in the world is 70 metres long. When denied adequate space, large, wide-ranging carnivores commonly develop problems such as abnormal repetitive behaviour (termed stereotypies) and aggression (Clubb & Mason, 2003).
- Limited social environment: Captive dolphins sharing a pool are often unrelated, from different geographic regions or from different species, which can result in changes to natural group dynamics leading to dominance-related aggression, injuries, illness and even death (Waples & Gales, 2002). In the wild, a majority of cetacean species live in interrelated family groups, or pods. These highly intelligent, social species can be found in aggregations of 100 or more animals.
- Environmental quality and complexity: Captive facilities cannot provide an environment that simulates the complex natural marine environment. Some dolphinaria (e. g, in Belgium, Lithuania, Bulgaria) only provide indoor facilities, without natural light and with possibly insufficient air circulation. Most pools are smooth-sided, small and virtually empty of stimuli (Couquiaud, 2005).
- Noise: Loud music and the regular, repetitive noise of pumps and filters are thought to cause significant stress to captive cetaceans, who are highly dependent on their sense of hearing (Couquiaud, 2005).
- Use of tranquillizers: Diazepam (Valium® and generics) is used by the captive dolphin industry to control stereotypies and anxiety, recognised as common problems in dolphinaria (Knight, 2013).
- Early mortality: Captive bottlenose dolphins may live as long as wild dolphins in the best facilities, but their annual mortality rates are still slightly higher (5.6% vs 3.9%, although this difference is not statistically significant) and in many facilities around the world, significantly higher, as poor quality housing and care contribute to ill health (Small & DeMaster, 1995; Woodley, 1997); orcas, on the other hand, have a significantly higher annual mortality rate in captivity than in the wild wherever they are held (6.2% vs 2.3%) (Small & DeMaster, 1995). Beluga whales appear to live about half as long in captivity as they do in the wild, based on tooth ring analysis (Stewart et al., 2006).
- Threats to wild populations: Wild capture of cetaceans for the captive industry continues to be a threat to small, local populations (Reeves et al., 2003; Fisher & Reeves, 2005).
- Non-compliance with EC Zoos Directive: EU Dolphinaria, required to contribute to species conservation, are not undertaking meaningful scientific research to benefit the species in the wild and low breeding success has rendered the captive dolphin population not self-sustaining.
Status in the EU
- Current numbers in Europe: There are 33 captive facilities keeping an estimated total of 307 individual cetaceans in 15 EU Member States. Spain (11) and Italy (4) host the majority of facilities. Species include bottlenose dolphins (an estimated 281 individuals), orca (12 individuals), harbour porpoise (estimated 11 individuals), beluga whales (two individuals) and one Amazon River dolphin (September 2014).
- EU legislation: Fourteen EU Member States regulate dolphinaria through legislation implementing the EU Zoo Directive, which requires their commitment to species conservation, scientific research, public education and species-specific welfare standards. Five Member States (Belgium, Finland, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom) have specific legislative standards for the keeping of cetaceans in captivity. The UK’s high standards currently preclude maintaining dolphinaria in the country. Italy has some of the best standards, but these are rarely enforced.
- Dolphinaria-free States: Thirteen Member States do not host dolphinaria. Slovenia, Cyprus and Croatia prohibit the keeping of cetaceans in captivity for commercial purposes, Hungary prohibits dolphin imports, whilst Greece has banned all animal performances.