This investigation provides a review of the keeping of whales and dolphins (cetaceans) in dolphinaria in the EU and examines whether EU Member States and the dolphinaria within them are meeting the requirements of EU legislation, including EC Directive 1999/22, relating to the keeping of wild animals in zoos, and EU Wildlife Trade Regulation (EC) 338/97. Results are based on evidence obtained as part of a pan-European project to evaluate the effectiveness and level of implementation and enforcement of the Zoos Directive, the EU Zoo Inquiry 2011; a literature review of available information on the capture and keeping of cetaceans in captivity, including risks to public safety; a legal analysis of compliance with EU legislation by dolphinaria in the EU and additional primary research examining the contribution made by dolphinaria in the EU to conservation and the promotion of public education and awareness.

Main findings included:

  • Dolphinaria in the EU are failing to comply with the requirements of EC Directive 1999/22
  • The dolphinaria were making an insignificant contribution to the conservation of biodiversity.
  • Trade data records indicate that 285 live cetaceans have been imported into the EU between 1979 and 2008, in spite of a prohibition under EU CITES Regulation 338/97 on imports of cetaceans into the EU for primarily commercial purposes.
  • The commitment to and standard of public education in the majority of the dolphinaria analysed for this investigation was poor.
  • All dolphinaria in the EU display their cetaceans to the paying public in regular presentations or shows, often accompanied by loud music, in which the animals usually perform a diverse repertoire of tricks and stunts.
  • Nineteen dolphinaria offer visitors the opportunity to get close to cetaceans, including for the taking of photographs, in swimming with dolphins programmes or in Dolphin Assisted Therapy programmes. Direct contact between the public and captive cetaceans places both parties at significant risk of disease and injury.
  • No captive cetacean in the EU has the freedom to express normal behaviour, a guiding principle for animal welfare. Stress and stereotypic behaviour are common among captive cetaceans.
  • Dolphinaria in the EU fail to meet the biological requirements of cetaceans in captivity and to provide species-specific enrichment. This is a key requirement of EC Directive 1999/22.

WDC and ENDCAP are calling for:

  1. A ban on the import of wild-caught dolphins into the EU;
  2. Member States to enact strict legislation for the keeping of these animals in captivity, including a ban on direct contact between cetaceans and members of the public;
  3. Member States to enact plans to phase out national dolphinaria and not grant permits for the construction of any new dolphinaria;
  4. The establishment of an EU-wide, publically accessible inventory of captive cetaceans to enable full and independent data analysis; and
  5. Every dolphinarium to have a full-time veterinarian and other full-time staff with significant cetacean experience available to carry out regular health checks and prevent ill-health.


Moving forward

The EU Zoo Inquiry has demonstrated the need for collaboration between public and private sectors, governments and the European Institutions to ensure that the implementation and enforcement of the EC Directive 1999/22, and other relevant EC legislation, is achieved. However, ENDCAP believes that captive cetacean facilities can never meet the conservation, education and animal welfare requirements of the EC Zoos Directive.
ENDCAP is committed to ending the keeping and display of cetaceans in captivity, and through SOS Dolphins, to change public opinion to recognise that the welfare of whales and dolphins is deeply compromised by captivity.
“We have been very clear that The EU Zoo Inquiry is the first step towards positive change. We hope to secure the support of Member State Governments, together with that of the European Commission, to ensure enforcement agencies have the means to effectively enforce the law. Many animals in European zoos are suffering needlessly, and without assistance from the European Community the shameful problems we have found are likely to continue.”

Daniel Turner, project manager for the EU Zoo Inquiry.


EU Member State Competent Authorities were often found to lack the knowledge and expertise to effectively interpret and apply the requirements of the EC Directive 1999/22, in relation to the keeping and display of captive cetaceans. Furthermore. zoo inspectors and veterinarians also appeared to lack knowledge and experience to make an appropriate assessment of the facilities to ensure legal compliance and appropriate animal care. Without necessary guidance and the training of enforcement personnel, captive dolphin facilities are likely to be left to their own devices and not meet their responsibilities in the conservation of marine mammals, meaningful public education and appropriate animal care. If such facilities are identified as not being able to provide marine mammals with a suitable environment, as believed by ENDCAP, then such facilities should cease to exist.
The European Commission welcomed the EU Zoo Inquiry and announced that a code of practice to help improve zoo regulation across the EU will be developed. This code of practice, which will be published in 2014, will have relevance to captive marine mammals.

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