Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Whales and dolphins do not belong in tanks

Photo (c) Gaia

A trainer died recently after being attacked by an Orca at the SeaWorld park in Orlando, Florida. Witnesses said the ‘killer whale’, as Orcas are often called, grabbed Dawn Brancheau from the poolside platform before dragging her underwater.

“Although this is a tragic incident, I am not surprised that yet another ‘accident’ has occurred at a captive dolphin facility. It’s not the first time a trainer has been injured, fatally or otherwise, by a captive whale or dolphin. These are wild animals, specialised hunters and highly unpredictable. People should not be swimming-with, or having direct contact with dolphins or any other wild animal. The Born Free Foundation campaigns tirelessly to raise awareness of the dangers involving direct interaction with wild animals and we continue to call for an end of the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity.”

Whales and dolphins (the orca is the largest member of the dolphin family) travel as much as 160 km a day in the wild, travelling in social groups of between three and 30 related individuals, known as pods. In captivity, the situation is very different. The individual animals are usually unrelated and the tank size bears no relation to the open ocean. In the United States of America the minimum tank requirements, which are based on the average size of an adult orca, are a length and width of 48ft (14.6 metres) and a minimum of 12ft (3.6 metres) deep. These are the specifications for keeping two adult orca.

Loro Parque Orca - photo BFF
Loro Parque Orca

“In captivity, an artificial, unnatural and enclosed environment, life for a wild animal is extremely stressful and thus detrimental to their wellbeing. The stimulations of the wild: the interactions with the natural environment and other animal species, do not exist, and this can have severe affects on the behaviour and wellbeing of a wild animal.

In captivity, dolphins and whales suffer from high mortality rates, low breeding success and often endure physical and psychological disorders, not documented in the wild. It is therefore not a surprise that this incident at SeaWorld Orlando, or other similar incidences elsewhere (where people have died or been injured when interacting with dolphins), has occurred. In fact, it is surprising that more ‘accidents’ have not occurred.”

Despite the obvious risks of injury or worse, the captive dolphin industry are encouraging members of the public to swim-with and interact with dolphins and other marine mammals. Swimming with dolphins in a captive environment has become a global business for tour operators that sell “once in a lifetime opportunities”. The physical risks involved are frequently ignored and what precautions are taken often focus on reducing the transmission of disease between the animals and the public.

“The Born Free Foundation strongly urges that people do not swim with marine mammals, such as dolphins,” stated Daniel Turner. “I am sure if people were aware of the suffering endured by captive dolphins and the risks to public health and safety, they think again before swimming with dolphins. The captive dolphin facilities and the tourism industry need to recognise their responsibilities to the wellbeing of their customers, and the animals, and no longer knowingly subject them to such risks.”

Unfortunately, the demand by holidaymakers to swim-with dolphins, in addition to the travel industry to supply the demand, the numbers of captive dolphin facilities are on the increase. Captive dolphin attractions have become ‘must-haves’ for tourist resorts, zoos and even hotels, and with captive dolphin populations in decline, wild dolphins are being captured from the wild to supply this demand.

One such example is the Solomon Islands, in the Pacific Ocean, which has permitted the capture and export of an unknown number of wild-caught dolphins to captive dolphin ‘attractions’ around the world. In 2003, over 100 bottlenose dolphins were captured from the waters around the Solomon Islands, with 28 exported to the popular tourist resort of Cancun, Mexico. In 2007, 28 dolphins were exported to the ‘Dolphin Bay’ facility at the £950 million Atlantis hotel in Dubai and since then, at least 7 dolphins have been sent to the Philippines for ‘training’, before they are transferred to the soon to be opened Marine Life Park at Resorts World Sentosa, in Singapore.

Tillikum, the orca that killed Dawn Brancheau last week, was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983 when he was 2 years old and transferred to Sealand in British Columbia in Canada. He arrived in SeaWorld Orlando in 1992 and usually performs under the stage name Shamu.

Whales and dolphins are highly-intelligent creatures. In a recent scientific study it was concluded that dolphins are the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans. This therefore brings into question what is the justification for using these animals in circus-style performances, which usually do not convey natural behaviour, and these various swim-with opportunities? The ability to recognize their intelligence is extremely problematic when so many institutions are reliant on their continued exploitation for profit.

“Our understanding of nature and the natural world continues to improve and with this, times change. The keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity for display or otherwise must be assigned to the history books. There is no justification for the capture, trade and display of these wild mammals. We need to stop building more captive dolphin facilities, stop the capture of wild dolphins from the wild and seek viable, humane ways to phasing-out this industry. Whales and dolphins, like all other wild animals, should be admired for their amazing natural attributes and protected in the wild, where they belong.”  


More reasons why dolphin interactions should stop:

2009 (Loro Parque, Tenerife) - Trainer died (drowned) from accident with killer whale.

2008 (Curacao, Mexico) - A dolphin fell on the head of tourists during a swim-with experience

2007 (Loro Parque. Tenerife) - Orca hit a female trainer with its mighty fin by accident. She broke an arm in the process. It is said that the orca brought her up to the surface after the incident.

Nov 2006 (Seaworld, San Deigo) – Killer whale dragged a trainer underwater during a show at SeaWorld, San Deigo, breaking his foot.

2006 (Sea World Florida) - A boy bitten by a dolphin during a ‘petting’ session

2004 Sea World, SAN ANTONIO -- A killer whale performance at SeaWorld came to an abrupt end Friday when one of the giant marine mammals slammed his trainer underwater repeatedly (apparently nobody was injured)

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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