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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Cetacean species and numbers of individuals held in dolphinaria in the European Union
|Bottlenose sp||Orca||Harbour Porpoise||Beluga Whale||Amazon River Dolphin|
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).
- The EC Zoos Directive (1999/22/EC)
- EU Wildlife Trade Legislation
- Directive 92/65/EEC which lays down animal health requirements governing trade in animals and their import into the Community
- Italian Regulations, Ministerial Decree n.469, 06/12/2001 Minimum standards for the keeping of Tursiops Truncatus in captivity
UK Standards Supplement to the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice
- 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
EU 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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- The Case for a Dolphin Sea Refuge in Italy: A Concept Paper (2016) LAV, Marevivo and Tethys Research Institute
- International Workshop: Towards a Sea Refuge for Dolphins – Programme (2016) LAV, Marevivo and Tethys Research Institute
- International Workshop: Towards a Sea Refuge for Dolphins – Biographies (2016) LAV, Marevivo and Tethys Research Institute
- What about Dolphins in Captivity? Five Main Reasons not to Keep Dolphins in a Pool (2015) Joan Gonzalvo
- A review of dolphin shows at Italian dolphinaria: are they reflecting dolphin’s “natural” behaviour? Is there anything educational about them? (2015) Joan Gonzalvo
- Back to the Blue Report (2015) Born Free Foundation
- Captive Cetacean Welfare Factsheet (2015) Dolphinaria-Free Europe
- Report on captive dolphins in Mexico (2015) Delfines En Libertad
- Killer Controversy: Why orcas should no longer be kept in captivity (2014) Animal Welfare Institute, Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D.
- Commentary on EAAM’s ‘What People Believe, What Science Knows’ (2014) Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D., Animal Welfare Institute
- Orcas currently in captivity (2014) Whale and Dolphin Conservation
- Behavior and salivary cortisol of captive dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) kept in open and closed facilities (2013) (2013) Cristian Ugaz et al.
- Diazepam – its use in captive bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) (2013) John A. Knight
- Killer Whale Killers (2012) E. C. M. Parsons
- Report on the Physical & Behavioural Status of Morgan, the Wild-Born Orca held in Captivity, at Loro Parque, Tenerife, Spain (2012) Dr Ingrid N. Visser for the Free Morgan Foundation
- Orca (Orcinus orca) captivity and vulnerability to mosquito-transmitted viruses (2012) Jett & Ventre
- What People Believe – What Science Knows (2012) European Association for Aquatic Mammals
- Report on the introduction of a rescued Orcinus orca individual into the Orca Ocean group (Loro Parque) (2012) Almunia Portoles
- Keto & Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivity (2011) Jett & Ventre
- The EU Zoo Inquiry 2011 – Evaluating Zoo Regulation in 20 EU Member States and Compliance in 200 Zoos (2011) Born Free Foundation
- Report on Captive Dolphins in Mexico and Dominican Republic (2010) Yolanda Alaniz Pasini, WSPA
- The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity (2009) Humane Society of the United States & the World Society for the Protection of Animals
- Health risks for marine mammal workers (2008) Tania D. Hunt et al.
- Dolphin-Assisted Therapy: More Flawed Data and More Flawed Conclusions (2007) Marino & Lilienfeld
- Public Awareness, Education, and Marine Mammals in Captivity (2007) Jiang et al.
- Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT), does it work? (2007) Whale and Dolphin Conservation
- Marine Mammals – Guidelines and Criteria Associated with Captivity (2006) Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, SPAW/RAC & the CEP Secretariat
- Keiko, Shamu and Friends: Educating Visitors to Marine Parks and Aquaria? (2006) Lück & Jiang
- Stereotypic Animal Behaviour: Fundamentals and Applications to Welfare (2006) Mason & Rushen (editors)
- Driven by Demand (2006) Whale and Dolphin Conservation
- Aquatic Mammals Special Issue (2005) Couquiaud, EAAM
- The Global Trade in Live Cetaceans: Implications for Conservation (2005) Fisher & Reeves
- Expert Statement on “Swim with the Dolphin Programs and Dolphin-assisted Therapy” (2005) Dr Karsten Brensing
- Can’t stop, won’t stop: is stereotypy a reliable animal welfare indicator? (2004) Mason & Latham
- Suffering, not smiling: The truth about captive dolphins (2004) ACRES
- Captivity effects on wide-ranging carnivores (2003) Clubb & Mason
- Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises: 2002–2010 Conservation Action Plan for the World’s Cetaceans (2003) Reeves et al., IUCN
- Biting the Hand that Feeds – the case against petting pools (2003) Whale and Dolphin Conservation
- Altrenogest (2003) Davidson & Plumb
- Evaluating and Minimising Social Stress in the Care of Captive Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) (2002) Waples & Gales
- Captive Orcas – ‘Dying to Entertain You’ (2001) Whale and Dolphin Conservation
- Corporate response and facilitation of the rehabilitation of a California gray whale calf (2001) Andrews et al.
- A Comparison of Survival Rates for Captive and Free-Ranging Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) and Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas) (1997) Woodley et al.
- Survival of five species of captive marine mammals (1995) Small & DeMaster
- Isolation of St. Louis encephalitis virus from a killer whale (1993) Buck et al.
- Marine mammals in zoos, aquaria and marine zoological parks in North America: 1990 census report (1990) Asper et al.
- Clostridium perfringens as the cause of death of a captive Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) (1987) Buck et al.
- Indicators of poor welfare (1986) Broom
- Dolphins and Whales in Captivity (Australia) (1985) Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare
- The efficacy of UV irradiation in the microbial disinfection of marine mammal water (1981) Spotte & Buck
- Occurrence of human-associated yeasts in the feces and pool waters of captive Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) (1980) John D. Buck
- Live capture statistics for the Killer Whale (orcinus orca) 1961-1976 in California, Washington and British Columbia (1977) Asper & Cornell
- Common Diseases of Small Cetaceans (1975) Sweeney & Ridgway
- Treatment of Water in Dolphinaria (1973) Andersen
- Ballenas y Delfines a la Mar Ecologistas en Acción (Video in Spanish)
- Whale and Dolphin Conservation
- SOSDelfines (Spain)