Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


At least 89 captive dolphin facilities are known to operate throughout geographical Europe1, holding over 500 hundred captive cetaceans, the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises. The largest number of captive dolphin facilities in this region are in Russia (24), Ukraine (17), Spain (11), and Turkey (10), many of which are notably located near popular international and national tourist destinations. 

In the European Union (EU), there are 32 captive cetacean facilities across 15 countries (Member States) that keep a total of 311 animals. The majority of these are bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), but this total also includes 12 orca (Orcinus orca), 11 harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), 2 beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) and an Amazon River dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) (recorded 2013). Of the 28 Member States (2013), Spain (11) and Italy (4) have the most facilities, whilst 14 countries do not have captive dolphin facilities.

Of the 32 facilities in the EU, 19 offer visitors the opportunity to interact with the cetaceans, including their use as props in souvenir photographs, in swim-with programmes or in ‘Dolphin Assisted Therapy’ programmes. Direct contact between the public and captive cetaceans places both parties at significant risk of disease and injury.

The majority of captive cetaceans are used in circus-style performances, often accompanied by loud music, as a form of entertainment. Cetaceans are also used in interactive sessions with the public both in terms of recreation, such as swim-with activities and their use as a prop within a souvenir photograph and as part of therapy, for people with disabilities. There is overwhelming evidence that captivity causes significant stress and suffering, resulting in physical and psychological disorders and early mortality. 

Born Free’s agenda for captive cetaceans

The Born Free Foundation will continue to challenge and oppose the captivity of cetaceans, lobby for higher standards of protection for the animals housed in existing facilities and expose malpractice and non-compliance. In the majority of instances, Born Free will seek to work with likeminded NGOs and individuals, as well as industry, to action those goals. 

European Union (priority)

  • Continual focus on the implementation and enforcement of the EC Zoos Directive. Includes capacity-building of competent authorities.
  • ontinual focus on the European Animal Welfare Framework law to ensure the genre of ‘wild animals in captivity’ is included within its scope.
  • Lobby European Parliamentarians, European Commission and Council Members to cease the performance of cetacean, imports into the EU and wild-captures from seas bordering the EU.  
  • Development, and membership of a coalition of NGOs focused on ending the keeping of cetaceans in captivity.
  • Support of the public-focused campaigns: SOSDelfines in Spain, the EU country with the most dolphinaria; and SOSDelfini in Italy, the EU country with the second most dolphinaria.
  • Commitment to the Free Morgan Foundation in its campaign to rescue and rehabilitate the orca, Morgan, who was rescued from EU waters and now performs in daily shows at Loro Parque, Tenerife.
  • Commitment to seeking and establishing a dolphin refuge or sanctuary in EU waters that will aim to retire and, if possible, rehabilitate former captive dolphins. 


Concerning the capture of cetaceans from the wild, three international agreements exist in Europe: ACCOBAMS, ASCOBANS and the EU Habitats Directive, which aim to conserve cetaceans in European waters. Signatories to ACCOBAMS, for example, are prohibited to capture cetaceans from the Mediterranean, Black Sea and the contiguous Atlantic area.  

There are some countries that have banned the keeping of dolphins in captivity. These include: Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Slovenia and Switzerland, which predominantly have prohibitions in place due to the commercial nature of dolphinaria. Greece has banned animal performances since 2012. Whilst the United Kingdom has no captive dolphin facilities because imposed standards exceed the viability of establishing a dolphinarium in the country.

There is no regional legislation specific to the keeping of dolphins and whales in captivity in Europe.  A number of countries have relevant legislation (Belgium, Italy and United Kingdom), or guidelines (Finland, Germany, Poland, Ukraine), however, in many cases, poor enforcement and knowledge allows substandard facilities to persist. In the European Union, all dolphinaria (except in Bulgaria) are licensed as zoos and must meet species-specific husbandry standards, as well as requirements in public education and species conservation, as stipulated by national zoo legislation and the EU Zoos Directive 1999/22

Members of industry associations (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM)) are expected to comply with established industry guidelines/standards.

International trade in cetaceans (wild and captive-bred) should be regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The convention was established to ensure trade in all animal and plant species listed in its appendices is not detrimental to the survival and viability of local, regional and global wild populations. Common species, bottlenose dolphins, orca and beluga whales are listed in Appendix II. In the European Union, all cetaceans are listed under Annex A of the Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 (amended by no.101/2012), for which the EU has adopted stricter domestic measures. 


Following a successful European tour promoting the film Blackfish, together with former dolphin trainer, Sam Berg (2013), Born Free is working together with animal protection organisations from across Europe to campaign of an end to the keeping of cetaceans in captivity. Learn more here.

“Blackfish has the ability to open the hearts and minds of people who may not have ever considered the issues that plague marine mammals suffering in captivity, but the film also inspires people to want to come together around a common goal. To end the keeping of whales and dolphin in captivity,” said Samantha Berg.  

The EU Zoo Inquiry

In 2011 Born Free Foundation, in collaboration with WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, published the results of investigations at 18 dolphinaria across the EU, as part of the EU Zoo Inquiry 2011. Analysis was undertaken on a number of key aspects of their operation including: participation in conservation activities, the acquisition of animals, public education, public safety and animal welfare. These parameters were evaluated against the legal requirements of EC Directive 1999/22, EU Council Regulation 338/97 and other relevant EU legislation. Results revealed that EU dolphinaria do not comply with the key objectives of the EC Zoos Directive. Learn more here.

Dolphinaria-Free Europe

Samantha Goddard, Born Free’s Programmes Assistant on wild animals in captivity, is Secretary for the coalition, of which Born Free is a founding member.

Born Free Foundation is a member of the Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition.

Dolphinaria-Free Europe, established in 2014, represents a global community of non-government organisations and professionals, working together on behalf of cetaceans throughout Europe.

The coalition works to raise awareness about the issues facing captive cetaceans and to affect policy at the EU level, lobbying MEPs and holding events in Europe.


In 2006, Born Free Foundation established ENDCAP, a coalition of European animal welfare organisations and wildlife professionals who, recognising the welfare problems associated with keeping wild animals in captivity, seek greater protection for these animals and agree that wild animals should not be exploited for human entertainment. ENDCAP establishes and coordinates projects that help to improve the welfare of wild animals in captivity within the European Community.  It also campaigns to end specific forms of captive wild animal exploitation, such as dolphinaria. The majority of Born Free’s work in Europe takes place in conjunction with ENDCAP, particularly with regard to political lobbying at the European Parliament. For further information visit the ENDCAP website at


SOSDolphins is a coalition of several national and international animal protection organisations that was established to raise greater awareness about the plight of cetaceans in captivity and ultimately, to seek a phasing-out of the captive dolphin industry in the European Union. Originally established and implemented in Spain (by FAADA) – the country with most dolphinaria and numbers of cetaceans in captivity in the EU – from 2013, the campaign is being extended across the EU Member States. Learn more here.

Free Morgan Campaign

Born Free is working with the Free Morgan Foundation ( to call for the release of Morgan, the orca, from Spanish zoo, Loro Parque, and her rehabilitation back to the wild. We need the support of the public! Read more about Morgan here.

Back to the Blue

In 2010, Born Free rescued two bottlenose dolphins, Misha and Tom, from a captive facility in Hisaronu, Turkey.  These dolphins were in desperate need of life saving emergency assistance to remove them from a small and dirty pool.  After a lengthy period of rehabilitation, Misha and Tom were released back into the wild in 2012. Learn more about the landmark ‘Back to the Blue’ rescue and rehabilitation here.

European Alliance to End Dolphin Captivity (EAEDC)

In 2009, the born free foundation joined the European Alliance to End Dolphin Captivity. This pan-European alliance of animal welfare organisations to challenge the European dolphinaria industry. EAEDC aims to raise awareness about the damage captivity often causes these intelligent animals and expose their unregulated wild-capture which is used to maintain an unsustainable industry. Learn more here

To find out more about captive whales and dolphins

To find out what you can do

1 In this instance Geographical Europe includes Russia and Georgia.

Born Free Foundation
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