The Dark Side of a Boom
Dolphins have been fascinating humans since time immemorial. In the ancient European world, dolphins were revered as messengers of the gods – those who killed a dolphin, paid for it with their own life. Today the marine mammals’ appeal is undiminished. But dolphins pay a high price for our desire to be close to them
Dolphins are migratory animals and travel distances of up to 100 kilometres a day. They live and hunt in highly developed social groups and use their echolocation sense for orienting themselves acoustically in the darkness of the oceans.
Their habitat cannot be reproduced on land. Each tank is far too small for dolphins, too barren, too artificial, simply too far from nature. Keeping these intelligent animals in captivity means depriving them of everything: their freedom, their complex family ties, their natural behaviours.
Hunted, Captured, Tortured – Loved?
There are around 200 dolphinaria around the globe. The demand for dolphins is huge and because such demand cannot be covered by captive breeding, dolphins continue to be taken from the wild. The brutal capture operations may even endanger the survival of entire dolphin populations.
Dolphins surviving capture and transport have only started their terrifying ordeal. From that day onwards they will only swim in a small confined space, in an entirely artificial environment. These wild animals will be continuously exposed to the presence of humans and crammed together arbitrarily with conspecifics with no place for retreat. Captive dolphins suffer from constant stress. Many animals fall ill and die young.
Respecting Dolphins as Wild Animals
Since 1989, it has been one of OceanCare’s main aims that dolphins are respected as wild animals. Already in OceanCare’s founding year, a dolphinarium in the canton of Valais was prevented from being constructed. In 1998, Circus Knie’s children’s zoo in Rapperswil quit keeping dolphins after OceanCare prevented the capture of dolphins in Jamaica. In 2012, the importation ban on whales and dolphins in Switzerland marked a breakthrough at the political level. Dolphinaria are now a thing of the past in this country.
In order to promote such change within other European countries, OceanCare has been a founding member of the coalition Dolphinaria-free Europe in 2015. This coalition, which comprises a broad range of conservation organisations, has been remarkably successful already in its founding year: A TV show using dolphins was prevented in Portugal; Poland’s Minister of the Environment was convinced to reject the construction of a dolphinarium; a debate on the acceptability of dolphinaria has been initiated within the EU Commission; and in the Republic of Cyprus, the coalition maintained an existing import ban on whales and dolphins.
Within the EU, Spain is the country holding the largest number of dolphins in captivity. Spain has such a long coastline and high potential to watch dolphins in the wild, yet they maintain more than 10 dolphinaria. OceanCare supports the campaign SOSdelfines of the Spanish animal welfare organisation FAADA to promote a critical view of dolphinaria aimed to education both the local population and tourists, who are the main target audience of dolphinaria operators.
OceanCare strongly advises against visiting dolphinaria both for animal welfare and species conservation reasons. If you respect dolphins, encounter them in the wild as part of a research trip or a responsibly organised whale and dolphin watching tour.