Dolphins no longer (BFF)

Captive whales and dolphins

Cetaceans (the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises) are kept in captive facilities in 15 EU Member States and in the majority, are regulated by the national zoo legislation that must conform to the requirements of EC Directive 1999/22. This includes the ability to demonstrate a commitment to the conservation of biodiversity, public education and the provision of an environment that meets the species’ biological and behavioural needs.
In the wild, cetaceans live in distinct populations in a variety of habitats; from estuaries, coastal environments and deep water habitats, from the tropics to the poles. As top predators many species exploit transient resources associated with particular water characteristics such as temperature, chemistry or clarity, and are known to travel vast distances. The home range of the smallest bottlenose dolphin, for example, is around 125 square kilometres, whilst orcas may travel as far as 150 kilometres in a day and can dive as deep as 400 metres; spending only 20% of the time on the water’s surface. Living in groups, or ‘pods’, these animals are highly sociable and intelligent, displaying self-awareness, cultural practices, and are known to source fundamental skills for survival.
In captive facilities within the EU, the majority of the cetaceans are kept for display and performance, in sterile tanks that offer little comparison to the environments of wild cetaceans. The regular presentations or shows are often accompanied by loud music, to which the animals usually perform a diverse repertoire of tricks and stunts. Some facilities offer opportunities for the public to ‘swim-with’ dolphins, take part in Dolphin Assisted Therapy, or pose for souvenir photographs: apparently established to generate money, rather than educate the public. Despite unjustified claims that such performance provides an enriching environment for the animals, there is increasing evidence that cetaceans suffer significant health and welfare problems in captivity.
There are 33 captive facilities keeping an estimated total of 309 individual cetaceans in 15 EU Member States. Spain (11) and Italy (4) host the majority of facilities. Species include bottlenose dolphins (283 individuals), orca (12 individuals), harbour porpoises (estimated 11 individuals), beluga whales (two individuals) and one Amazon River dolphin.
Of the 28 Member States, 14 do not have captive dolphin facilities. Slovenia, Cyprus and Croatia have banned dolphinaria, and five Member States (Belgium, Finland, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom) have specific legislative standards for the keeping of cetaceans in captivity (see Relevant Legislation).
In 2011, ENDCAP in collaboration Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) published the results of investigations at 18 dolphinaria across the EU, as part of the EU Zoo Inquiry 2011. Results revealed that EU dolphinaria do not comply with the key objectives of the EC Zoos Directive.

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ENDCAP is opposed to the keeping of cetaceans in captivity, recognising that the practice cannot comply with the requirements of the EC Zoos Directive, or provide for the needs of these animals. The Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition, associated to ENDCAP, campaigns for a phasing-out of dolphinaria in the EU.


Cetacean species and numbers of individuals held in dolphinaria in the European Union

  Bottlenose sp Orca Harbour Porpoise Beluga Whale Amazon River Dolphin  
Belgium 9          
Bulgaria 6          
Denmark     3      
France 27 4        
Germany 17       1  
Greece 8          
Italy 29          
Lithuania 9          
Malta 7          
Netherlands 35   10      
Portugal 28          
Romania 2          
Spain 98 6   2    
Sweden 10          
TOTAL 283 10 13 2 1 309


Cetaceans: whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Wild Animal: An animal that is not normally or historically domesticated in the specific country.
Zoo: All permanent establishments where animals of wild species are kept for exhibition to the public for seven or more days in a year, with the exception of circuses, pet shops and establishments which Member States exempt from the requirements of the Directive on the grounds that they do not exhibit a significant number of animals or species (Directive 1999/22/EC). (This applies to dolphinaria in all EU Member States with the exception of Bulgaria).

  • There are 33 captive dolphin facilities in 15 EU Member States, keeping up to 315 captive cetaceans
  • In Bulgaria, dolphinaria are regulated by legislation for circuses and theatrical performance and not as zoos
  • The majority of the captive cetaceans in the EU are bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and (Tursiops truncatus ponticus) but there are also other species such as orcas (Orcinus orca) and belugas (Delphinapterus leucas)
  • Records indicate that at least 98 wild-caught bottlenose dolphins have been imported into the EU from countries including Cuba, Russia and the USA, despite prohibition by European Council Regulation (EC) 338/97, which implements CITES in the EU
  • Scientific evidence has indicated that Dolphin Assisted Therapy is not a valid treatment for any disorder
  • Dolphins can pass diseases to humans and vice versa

Dolphinaria ReportEU 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 (2011)
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