midiamimesItalian dolphinaria are failing to protect their animals

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Captive dolphins (Photo: Born Free Foundation)A new report has revealed that all the Italian facilities keeping captive dolphins are violating national and European laws. Animal protection organisations; the Born Free Foundation, LAV and Marevivo have requested the European Commission to open an infringement procedure against the Italian Government to investigate the reported concerns and encourage improved animal care.
Rome, 5th November: The report, presented at the Italian Parliament’s Senate on Tuesday, provides significant evidence that Italy’s five captive dolphin facilities, and the Italian Authorities whose task it is to license them, are failing to meet the requirements of the European Zoos Directive (1999/22/EC) and Italy’s Ministerial Decree No.469, which aim to protect whales and dolphins in captivity.
The Report, 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, produced by Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) in collaboration with ENDCAP, Born Free Foundation, LAV and Marevivo, highlights that dolphinaria in Italy do not:

  • offer  their animals with an environment capable of satisfying their biological and species-specific needs ,
  • make any significant contribution to the conservation of the species, or
  • provide valuable public education.

We have urged the Italian Minister of Environment to ensure full compliance with the requirements of Directive 1999/22/EC and the national legislation, Ministerial decree n. 469 of 2001 on the management of the dolphin species Tursiops truncatus” explained Roberto Bennati, Vice President of LAV and member of the coalition, SOSDelfini. “Through the official complaints procedure, we have urged the European Commission to initiate an investigation into the evident violations in European law and to open an infringement procedure to ensure compliance and higher standards in animal protection. We are concerned that captive dolphin facilities in Italy do not provide the animals with their needs and are placing their animals at risk.”
Currently there are five dolphinaria in Italy: Rimini, Oltremare, Acquario di Genova, Fasanolandia and Zoomarine. Four make  their animals perform  circus-style tricks. Only two of the dolphinaria have been operating with the necessary zoo license, the remainder, have been operating illegally.
The dolphinarium of Rimini is currently closed, following a Court ruling upon evidence that the facility had mistreated their animals, and the dolphins have been transferred to the Acquario di Genova.
In Italy, the dolphins in captivity provide no benefit to public education or species conservation; the key requirements of the Italian and European zoo law; instead most are forced to perform demeaning tricks to music and are housed in unnatural, cramped conditions  to provide ‘entertainment’,” said Daniel Turner, spokesperson for ENDCAP. “ENDCAP is pleased to be working with LAV and Marevivo to expose these violations in law and end the exploitation of these highly intelligent animals.
In captivity, cetaceans are generally kept for display and performance in tanks that offer little by way of comparison to the environments of wild cetaceans. Abnormal behaviour is common and drugs are sometimes administered to reduce stress. Furthermore, survival rates are lower than in the wild.
In the wild, cetaceans live in a variety of habitats, from estuaries, coastal environments and deep water habitats, from the tropics to the Poles and are known to travel vast distances. Bottlenose dolphins have home ranges as large as 300 kilometres (km) and have been recorded travelling up to 1076 km in 20 days, whilst orcas can dive as deep as 60 metres and travel as far as 160 km in a day, spending less than 20% of their time at the water’s surface. Living in groups (called pods), these animals are highly sociable and intelligent, displaying self-awareness and differing cultures.
At present in the EU, there are 34 dolphinaria keeping  305 cetaceans in captivity , including small whales, dolphins and porpoises. Out of 28 EU Member States, 15 still hold cetaceans in captivity.
The Report’s findings:
Conservation or cruelty? Education or entertainment?
The Report’s analysis found that dolphinaria in Italy and the EU are making little to no contribution to conservation and that in fact they may be detrimental to the conservation of wild whales and dolphins.

  • Studies show dolphins to have a lower survival rate in captivity than in the wild
  • The captive population is unsustainable. Captures of wild dolphins for captivity still goes on in some parts of the world. The danger remains that if the number of dolphinaria in the EU remains the same or increases that attempts may be made by dolphinaria to import further wild-caught dolphins into the EU which contradicts EU law
  • Dolphinaria are commercial enterprises that charge entrance fees to visitors who are entertained by elaborate dolphin shows
  • The investigation also revealed that no dolphinarium in the EU is involved in a programme of release of whales or dolphins into the wild and that only seven facilities out of the 34 in the EU actually make any reference to being involved in conservation of wild dolphins on their websites
  • Hardly any serious research is undertaken on captive dolphins that would contribute to conservation initiatives. Most research is devoted to keeping the animals alive.


  • Analysis of footage taken at 18 dolphins shows in the EU clearly demonstrates that they are geared to entertainment
  • Dolphinaria fail to provide audiences with even the most basic details on the species who perform tricks and stunts for the amusement of visitors
  • An average of only 12.3% of the commentaries at the shows analysed included any information about the animals on display that could be considered to be educational (what dolphins eat, the parts of their bodies, even that they are mammals)
  • Despite the death and injury of experienced trainers, some facilities still put animals and visitors at risk by allowing people to swim with them, leading the public to think that this is healthy and normal behaviour


  • The Report states, a dolphin in captivity does not have the freedom he or she would have in the wild
  • Small, sterile tanks can’t support the plant or food life or social stimulus that the animals need, causing severe detriment to the health and welfare of captive dolphins.

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Author: ENDCAP