What about dolphins in captivity?

Dolphinaria-Free Europe members The Born Free Foundation, and Italian animal protection association LAV (Lega Anti Vivisezione) have been working together to promote the second in a series of four scientific papers by bottlenose dolphin specialist, Dr Joan Gonzalvo, which challenge the argument that it is acceptable to keep marine mammals in captivity.

In the new scientific paper, entitled What about Dolphins in Captivity? Dr Gonzalvo highlights the five main characteristics of wild dolphins and assesses if those can be met in dolphinaria. He concludes that dolphins should not be kept in captivity because they are intelligent, cognitive animals that have good memory, self-awareness, and are capable of problem solving. He also argues that they have psychological and emotional sensitivity, with, for example, the capacity to grieve.
Dr Joan Gonzalvo said: “I invite those considering visiting a dolphinarium with their children to think twice about the message we want to give to future generations. Do we have any right to hold a highly evolved, intelligent and sensitive animal captive, to force it to conduct a rather clownish behaviour by performing tricks and stunts for our entertainment? If that is the case, we should seriously review our concept of what is entertaining and the kind of relationship that we want to have with nature. Let’s make people conscious about what is hidden behind the frozen smile of a captive dolphin.”
Dr Gonzalvo, who over the last 15 years has spent more than 1,000 hours observing dolphin groups in their natural environment, also points out that the small concrete tanks dolphins have to endure in captivity do not compare to the wild, where dolphins are highly mobile, fast-moving and deep-diving mammals that often travel hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of miles. They also form complex social networks – unlike in captivity where they are forced into artificial social groupings determined by humans.
He also argues that the continued justification made by the captive industry that dolphin shows serve a necessary educational and conservation purpose is simply not true. This argument is put forward in Dr Gonzalvo’s first scientific paper, A Review of Dolphin Shows at Italian Dolphinaria, published in Italy in May this year. That study examined footage from nine dolphin shows recorded in five Italian dolphinaria between 2012 and 2014 to assess their value in increasing visitor awareness of dolphin conservation. Dr Gonzalvo found that an average of just 10% of shows provided information on the biology and behaviour of cetaceans. No shows included in the study mentioned conservation.
Since our launch in 2014, Dolphinaria-Free Europe has formed a strong coalition, used by member organisations to form joint campaigns which focus on phasing out dolphinaria in Europe. Through public awareness and lobbying in the European parliament, we work to challenge the idea of captivity and expose malpractice and non-compliance of captive facilities. The only future we see for whales and dolphins is not in a tank.
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