Marine Connection believes that no dolphin or whale should be taken from the wild or bred in captivity. 

 

Lolita_Miami Seaquarium (c) Orca NetworkEach year, many people visit dolphinaria and marine parks because of a love for dolphins and whales, buying a ticket to see them perform – but at what cost to the animals? Life for captive cetaceans may appear harmless and the shows exciting, however in reality it is a different story. These facilities only exist to provide public entertainment and generate profit with little or no emphasis on education about, or conservation of, the species on display.

Even the largest tank is only a tiny fraction of the size of the natural home ranges these marine mammals have in the wild. Life for captive dolphins and whales bears no comparison to the lives of their wild counterparts in the ocean who, each day spend 10-20% of their time at the surface, in captivity this increases to at least 70%. In a tank, they are restricted by walls, unable to travel at speed or depth for any distance and are denied everything that is natural and important to them. A captive environment cannot provide adequate stimulation for these social, intelligent, large brained, complex marine mammals which, in the wild, would live in inter-related family social groups.

dolphin jumping with sea in background (c) Xavier MARCHANTDolphins and whales are top predators. Wide ranging carnivores such as wild orcas for example, can travel up to 100km per day, foraging and socialising. If this natural behaviour is denied, as it is in captivity, can lead to stereotypical behaviours, aggression, stress and injury, sometimes even death. In captivity, dolphins and whales perform unnatural behaviours for food reward and drugs are routinely used by the industry to control anxiety, behaviour and loss of appetite. Contrary to what these facilities promote, they are not self-sustaining. Mortality rates and stress-related causes of death in captive whales and dolphins is high, some animals have never produced a calf and those that are born, often do not survive. This is why dolphins and whales continue to be captured from the wild today – to stock both existing, and new, facilities.

Leading scientists/marine biologists have issued a statement opposing the keeping of cetaceans in captivity; which can be read here.

 

Life for captive whales & dolphins is nothing like a life in the sea.

Captivity is a Global Issue

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UK

Since 1993 the UK has had no dolphin and whale facilities. Many believe there is a ban on keeping these animals in this country however, to date, there is no actual ban in place. There are also companies which operate in the UK that have links to the captivity industry elsewhere.

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What brought about the closure of all the dolphinariums in the UK? In 1985 the Department of the Environment (now DEFRA), commissioned Dr Margaret Klinowska and Dr Susan Brown to research and review the keeping of cetaceans in UK zoos and aquaria. These findings were published in 1986 and formed part of an additional supplement to the Secretary of State Standards for Modern Zoo Practice relating specifically to the keeping of dolphins and whales. At the time, these were some of the strictest in the world and would have cost facilities vast sums of money to upgrade to adhere to these new requirements.

Added to this, was a growing public awareness of the effects captivity has on dolphins and whales with campaigns being established to close all UK dolphinaria. Marine Connection co-founders were both actively involved and the last dolphinarium in the UK, Flamingoland, closed its doors in 1993.

We continue to work alongside MPs and DEFRA to ensure firm legislation remains in place, also to address and challenge any application for new facilities should these be made – ensuring the UK remains free of captive dolphins and whales.

There are companies with interests/bases in the UK who profit from the keeping of captive dolphins and whales elsewhere. London based Arle Capital manages a portfolio of companies which include Parques Reunidos who, along with Merlin Entertainments and Grupo Aspro, all own attractions/theme parks in the UK whilst also holding, and profiting from, captive dolphins and whales in other countries.

Tour operators and airlines such as Virgin Holidays, British Airways and Thomson sell holidays/tickets for facilities which have cetaceans (some captured from the wild). It is vital the general public are aware that, when using the services of these companies, they are contributing to the misery of keeping dolphins and whales in captivity.

See Red Campaign

The Red Sea Area

A haven for divers, snorkelers and anyone keen to see marine wildlife, the Red Sea area is famous for its beautiful clear, warm waters. However, in stark contrast, also has several facilities which hold captive dolphins, and this contradiction opposes the natural diversity of marine life the area has to offer.

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The expansion of facilities in Egypt is seen as a way to generate profit from tourism, offering the public an opportunity to watch dolphin shows, participate in dolphin swims and ‘therapy’ sessions. However the public visiting facilities are not being made aware of how the dolphins came to be there. Many of the dolphinariums in the areas of Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh have animals originally captured from the wild (with several purchased from the notoriously cruel and inhumane drive hunts in Japan), whilst others are ‘leased’ from dolphin traders.

Marine Connection launched its ‘Sea Red’ campaign after being alerted to a facility in Sharm el Sheikh which had imported two young beluga whales from Russia that were being held in a tiny pool with no protection from the sun and searing temperatures.  After raising concerns over their welfare our campaign resulted in the belugas being confiscated and returned to Russia. 

In Eilat, Israel, one facility claim to offer a more ‘natural’ interaction with their dolphins in sea penned areas stating that they “maintain their daily routine of hunting, playing, courting and socializing” and are free to choose between human company or to continue their daily routine in the group.  However this is still an unnatural environment as these dolphins have become habituated to human company, with the same basic daily routine – they do not display the varied daily movements of free-roaming dolphins.

Dolphin Bay at Atlantis the Palm.

Middle East

The Middle East including Dubai (UAE) has become an extremely popular tourist destination. Holidaymakers often list ‘swimming with dolphins’ as one of the main activities they want to experience whilst in Dubai, with one of the most visited being Dolphin Bay at Atlantis the Palm.

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In order to make this wish come true, the dolphins were originally captured to order by Atlantis from the waters around the Solomon Islands, separated from their families in the wild and flown thousands of miles to Dubai. The dolphins at Dubai Dolphinarium in Creek Park which has dolphin shows and an interaction programme is stocked by dolphins wild caught from the Ukraine and Taiji, Japan.

Tourism in Dubai is an important part of the government’s strategy to maintain the flow of money into the emirate and make it one of the top destinations for holidaymakers but it is important that the expansion of the city does not include further facilities to hold dolphins or whales.

Captive cetaceans are not however limited to the United Arab Emirates. In the Middle East other countries which hold cetaceans include Bahrain, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

DD Isla Mujeres (c) M Dodds

The Caribbean

The Caribbean has around 30 captive dolphin facilities holding in excess of 200 dolphins. With several Caribbean islands being popular ports of call for cruise ships, most offer either dolphin shows or swimming with dolphins as an on-shore excursion. So popular have these become that expansion of facilities continues – creating demand for more dolphins.

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The scale of dolphin interaction programmes in the Caribbean is enormous and, unlike seeing dolphins in a tank, many tourists feel more ‘comfortable’ seeing dolphins in what they perceive is a more natural setting. However these pens are excessively shallow with dolphins held in very compact conditions, many being less than 1% of their natural habitat range. Water contamination is also an issue with tidal flow being insufficient to clear waste and debris from the ocean floor.

The Caribbean is a captive dolphin hotspot with cruise ships being a significant source of customers for “swim-with-dolphins” facilities. Tourists simply disembark, swim with the dolphins and return to their giant vessels and these companies all earn considerable revenue by promoting these on-shore excursions, profiting from the dolphins captive existence. 

In return, the dolphins are in constant demand for continued interactions, under pressure to perform, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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Russia

Russia has many facilities holding captive cetaceans, including travelling dolphin shows.  One of the largest suppliers to captive facilities around the world including China, meeting an ever-growing demand for cetaceans, especially beluga whales and orcas.

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Russia is one of the few countries with traveling dolphinariums, with many currently in operation. The living and transport conditions for these animals mean they are under constant stress, being moved around the country in trucks and vans, with very basic equipment and displayed in makeshift enclosures often in unsanitary and unregulated conditions.

The Russian Government are responsible for regulation of captures of wild marine mammals, with numbers varying year on year. Live takes continue to raise concern however, and despite marine mammal scientists advising that a zero quota to capture orcas in particular be given until further research has been undertaken, this advice has been refused.

In 2013 Georgia Aquarium in the USA were denied the permit by NOAA to import 18 belugas captured from the wild in the Sea of Okhotsk. Several reasons were given for the decision including the fact that at time of capture, some of the belugas were so young as to still be nursing and not independent. Furthermore, it could not be determined whether the importation would have an adverse impact on wild beluga stocks and ongoing trade may have contributed to a cumulative decline in the beluga population over the previous two decades.

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China

The ocean theme park industry is expanding rapidly in China with dozens displaying cetaceans in shows and many offering visitors close contact interaction opportunities. One facility, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai has several orcas and others have beluga whales, all obtained from Russian captures.

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The welfare of captive cetaceans in mainland China is of concern, the living conditions within the ocean theme parks are inadequate to meet the complex physical and behavioural needs of cetaceans. Due to these conditions, many animals are likely to be suffering to varying degrees.

China Cetacean Alliance members have documented the arrival of over 250 wild- caught cetaceans into Chinese ocean theme parks since 2010. Their report ‘OCEAN THEME PARKS: A Look Inside China’s Growing Captive Cetacean Industry’ will form part of an awareness campaign this year, to inform the Chinese public about conservation and welfare concerns associated with the capture of free-ranging cetaceans and the keeping of them in captivity.

Blue Lagoon Island, Bahamas (c) K Roach courtesy Marine Connection

Swim With/Dolphin Interaction Programmes

For many people the opportunity to ‘Swim With Dolphins’ is seen as a once in a lifetime experience, a harmless way of getting close up and personal with these mammals – but at what cost to the dolphins involved? 

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Your short interaction during a swim session means a lifetime of confinement and servitude for dolphins, affects their welfare and can also be a threat to your own wellbeing.

Although it may seem an innocuous practice, interactions with captive dolphins ranging from dorsal tows, beak pushes and ‘kissing’ are all designed to provide a positive experience for the paying customers but does nothing to enhance the lives of the dolphins involved.

There are also concerns over disease transmission as dolphins carry bacterial, viral and fungal diseases which can easily be transmitted to humans and vice-versa. Water quality at these facilities is often inferior and is a serious health risk to both dolphins and humans.

If you love dolphins please do not add this activity to your ‘bucket list’.

Dolphin Assisted Therapy

Dolphin Assisted Therapy

Dolphin-Assisted Therapy (DAT) has become increasingly popular as a method of treating those suffering mental or physical disability via interaction programmes with dolphins held in a captive environment.  

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Claims made by facilities in support of DAT have been challenged by eminent scientists such as Dr Lori Marino.

The benefits of DAT have been questioned by scientists and studies quoted by facilities to support DAT show serious flaws – rendering their results weak at best and at worst meaningless, with very little scientific peer reviewed papers to validate claims that DAT is indeed effective.

There is insufficient proof of long-term benefits for those participating in DAT programmes being any more beneficial than animal-assisted therapy which is facilitated using domestic animals. Furthermore, very few facilities which claim to offer ‘dolphin assisted therapy or healing’ take part in any follow-up work or produce documented evidence that this is a long-term solution for patients, and this is extremely dangerous. Some of the conditions being “treated” at these facilities are serious and require specialist medical knowledge, therefore simply undertaking treatment without any professional follow-up care is senseless and precarious. Any positive social effects of DAT therapy could be simply attributed to the socialising or other factors which the patient may not usually be exposed to. 

Despite not being subjected to any international regulation, lack of monitoring and control of treatment or facilities, DAT is very popular and has no shortage of customers. It is also very expensive for participants, making it very lucrative for those offering this ‘therapy’ to profit from not only the dolphins they hold captive but from already vulnerable members of the public who are desperate to find an answer to help ease pain or suffering of themselves or loved ones.

Photo Credits: Main Pic – Wheatley, Lolita – Orca Network, Dolphin in Sea Pen – Xavier Marchant, UK – The Star, Red Sea – Marine Connection,
Middle East & Caribbean – M Dodds, China – CCA, Swim Prog – SKRoach, DAT – Dksvetlaya