Low breeding success has rendered the captive dolphin population not self-sustaining, necessitating the capture of wild cetaceans which continues to be a threat to small, local populations.
The 'Dolphinaria-Free Europe Coalition' (DFEC), consisting of 19 NGOs from 11 countries, are calling upon European citizens, Parliamentarians and Member State governments to end captive dolphin shows and interactive sessions which, they say, "exploit the animals and compromise their welfare."
There are currently 33 dolphinaria in 15 EU countries, collectively holding an estimated 307 captive whales and dolphins. The Coalition's first objective is to raise awareness about their exploitation.
"In our view, the scientific evidence is conclusive", says DFEC's Policy Coordinator Daniel Turner, also Programmes Manager for the Born Free Foundation, who is asking supporters to 'Make a promise for freedom'.
"The keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity, where they are trained to perform unnatural behaviours, not only distorts the natural attributes of these highly intelligent, social animals, but is also known to compromise the animal's physical and mental health."
The UK's Green MEP Keith Taylor, a co-hosts of the launch, added: "To confine creatures such as whales, dolphins and porpoise which are used to roaming large territories to live in small pools - all in the name of public entertainment - is cruel.
"Denying these intelligent animals' sufficient space and complexity causes them to develop abnormal behaviour and heightened aggression as, for example, shown in the film 'Blackfish'. This is why I want to see an end to cetacean captivity.
The law is failing to prevent serious abuses
In the EU dolphinaria are regulated by national zoo laws in the State where they are located and by the EU's 1999/22 Zoos Directive, which requires all dolphinaria to make demonstrable commitments to species conservation, public education and higher standards of animal welfare.
But a recent report by ENDCAP found widespread abuses taking place. Its main findings were:
- "Dolphinaria in the EU are failing to comply" with the Zoos Directive
- The dolphinaria are making an "insignificant contribution to the conservation of biodiversity."
- 285 live cetaceans have been imported into the EU between 1979 and 2008, violating a prohibition under EU CITES Regulation 338/97 on imports of cetaceans into the EU for primarily commercial purposes.
- Public education in most surveyed dolphinaria was "poor".
- All dolphinaria in the EU display their cetaceans to the paying public in regular presentations or shows, often to loud music, in which the animals perform tricks and stunts.
- 19 dolphinaria allow visitors to get close to cetaceans, including for the taking of photographs, in swimming with dolphins programmes or in Dolphin Assisted Therapy programmes - placing 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 - is a key requirement of the Zoos Directive.
Italian MEP Marco Affronte, also a co-host of today's event, commented: "There is really no excuse - if dolphinaria cannot adequately provide whales and dolphins with their physical and behaviour needs, there is no longer a place for these attractions in the European Union. Emphasis must be given to the protection of these animals in the wild, not their incarceration in captivity."
Welfare concerns grow over poor conditioons
According to DFEC, the largest captive facilities are a fraction of the size of the natural home ranges of whales, dolphins and porpoises. For example, orcas may travel 150 kilometres in a day, but the largest orca tank in the world is 70 metres long
Captive dolphins sharing a pool are often unrelated, from different geographic regions or from different species, which can result in dominance-related aggression, injuries, illness and death. In the wild, most cetaceans live in family groups of 100 or more animals.
Loud music and the regular, repetitive noise of pumps and filters are thought to cause significant stress to captive cetaceans, who are highly dependent on their sense of hearing. Tranquillizers including Diazepam (Valium) are widely used by the captive dolphin industry.
Captive facilities lack stimulation, and some (in Belgium, Lithuania, Bulgaria) only provide indoor facilities, without natural light and with possibly insufficient air circulation. Most pools are smooth-sided.
And far from promoting cetacean conservation, dolphinaria endanger wild animals. "Low breeding success has rendered the captive dolphin population not self-sustaining", DFEC reports, necessitating the capture of wild cetaceans which "continues to be a threat to small, local populations."
Spain (11) and Italy (4) host the majority of facilities. Species include bottlenose dolphins (an estimated 281 individuals), orca (12 individuals), harbour porpoise (estimated 11 individuals), beluga whales (two individuals) and one Amazon River dolphin (September 2014).
Thirteen Member States do not host dolphinaria. Slovenia, Cyprus and Croatia prohibit the keeping of cetaceans in captivity for commercial purposes, Hungary prohibits dolphin imports, whilst Greece has banned all animal performances.
Five Member States (Belgium, Finland, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom) have specific legislative standards for the keeping of cetaceans in captivity. The UK's high standards currently preclude maintaining dolphinaria in the country. Italy has some of the best standards, but these are rarely enforced.
Pledge: 'Make a promise for freedom'.
Campaign: Dolphinaria-Free Europe.