The timeless love we have for dolphins

Born Free’s Captivity Officer Samantha Goddard reflects on the deep-rooted affection we have here in the UK for what could be the most loved species on the planet, the dolphin.

Faced with the prospect of an end to the keeping of dolphins in captivity in the UK in 1986, the then Director of London Zoo made the bold claim that if the UK lost its dolphinaria, then people would lose interest in dolphins.

I am pleased to say that today there are no captive dolphins in the UK.  The last remaining captive facilities in Brighton and Morecombe Marineland closed in 1991, following a campaign called ‘Into the Blue’, coordinated by animal welfare organisations including Born Free. But what of the claim that people would lose interest in dolphins? Have people in the UK stopped caring about these wonderful animals since the tanks were closed?

It seems clear that public concern for dolphins had, and still has, a very large part to play in making and keeping the UK dolphinaria-free. While you may no longer see people protesting outside dolphinaria in Britain, hundreds of people from across the country gather in London each year to protest the brutal capture of dolphins from the wild in Taiji in Japan. Their calls to keep these animals in the wild can surely be attributed not to the presence of dolphinaria in the UK, but their absence; perfectly illustrating that the captivity of whales and dolphins is not required to inspire passion for these animals. In fact, in 2014 a public opinion poll showed that 86% of the 2,050 British people questioned said that they would not want to visit dolphinaria during their holidays

In 2016, the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) was ranked as one of Britain’s top 1,000 charities based on its voluntary public donations, which for last year were almost £3 million; there are many people in the UK donating specifically to help dolphins in captivity and in the wild.

TV documentaries about marine animals including dolphins reach record viewing figures: Dolphins- Spy in the Pod (2014), reached 5.3 million viewers for the first episode alone. The first series of Blue Planet, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, first aired in 2001 and drew in 12 million viewers, making £20 million in DVD sales. The second series, Blue Planet II, aired this year and has been the most watched programme of 2017 so far.

These statistics arguably demonstrate that people in the UK have as much, if not more, of an interest and passion for dolphins and marine wildlife today than when they were kept in tanks across the country.

Around the world, many people have an affinity with dolphins: some will be happy to see them in captivity, while others would not dream of doing so. So what is the difference between these two groups of people? I think it is very little, and the fact that some people remain keen to see dolphins and whales in captivity shows that the truth about the suffering of animals in captivity has just not yet spread far enough.  Born Free is working to educate people about animal suffering and exploitation so they can then make their own informed decisions.

There are now so many ways to ‘see’ these amazing animals without captivity, including the immersive TV documentaries mentioned above. With the use of the latest technologies, these allow us to see all kinds of marine animals up close and personal in their natural environments undertaking their natural behaviours, and this is exactly what ground-breaking TV series, such as Blue Planet allow us to do from the comfort of our own front rooms.  We can see things such as dolphins swimming alongside false killer whales in New Zealand, and a pod of orca hunting for herring in Norway.

On the subject of orca, we are delighted to have seen a 24% increase in adoption figures for “our” orca, Springer, over the last 2 years.  We believe this is due, in part, to our #TankFree campaign; the key message from which is that we can and must do much better for whales and dolphins than to keep them in barren tanks.

I am very happy that the only way to see whales and dolphins around the UK today is in the wild. Since the captive industry closed here in the 1990s, it is simply not true that interest  in dolphins has been lost; if anything people are more interested in them, to the point of wanting to end the keeping of whales and dolphins in tanks altogether around the world.  If you share this conviction, why not visit our webpage to find out more about our #TankFree campaign and our adoption for Springer the orca?

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