Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


There are believed to be at least 2000 individual dolphins (including species, Tursiops truncatus, Tursiops aduncus, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens, Stenella attenuate, Grampus griseus and Inia geoffrensis), 227 beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), 56 orca (Orcinus orca), 37 porpoises (Phocoena phocoena, Neophocaena phocaenoides) and 17 false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) held in 343 captive dolphin facilities across the world. This constitutes at least 20 different species of cetacea, the collective name given to whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Captive cetacea facilities are found in 63 countries, with the highest numbers located in Japan (57), China (44), USA (34), Russia (24) and Mexico (24). Captive cetacea facilities are particularly common in popular tourism destinations, such as Florida (USA),  the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico), Dominican Republic and Cuba (Caribbean), the Canary Islands (Spain) and in coastal resorts of Turkey. They are located in zoos, hotels, as separate operating facilities and within travelling menageries, and are usually promoted by international media and the travel industry as centers of entertainment and amusement.

There are however 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; Chile and Costa Rica, which have prohibited the keeping of cetaceans since 2005; and in 2013, India, the world’s largest democracy, passed legislation prohibiting the development of dolphinaria, referring to dolphins as “non-human persons”. Greece banned animal performances in 2012, whilst countries, such as the United Kingdom, have no captive dolphin facilities because imposed standards exceed the viability of establishing a dolphinarium in the country.

Of all the countries that have captive dolphin facilities, the USA keeps the highest number of cetaceans (556), with SeaWorld keeping the most: reportedly a total of 160 individual cetaceans across its three marine parks; as well as the highest number of orca across it's 3 parks, 24 of of total 56 kept worldwide. Facilities in China reportedly have a total of 315 cetaceans, whilst the facilities in the European Union keep a total of 300 whales and dolphins.

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 and in petting activities, as a prop within a souvenir photograph and as part of therapy, for people with disabilities. In 2010, the BBC reported that swimming with dolphins was regarded by the British public as one of the most common "things to do before you die", but further reported that such interactions can be highly stressful and damaging for the animals. 

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. 


Challenge any proposed plans to establish new dolphinaria and marine parks with dolphins/whales.

World Cetacean Alliance

  • Daniel Turner, Born Free’s Programmes Manager on wild animals in captivity policy, chairs the Captivity Working Group and is a member of the WCA Global Council.
  • Born Free is a Partner of WCA and is committed to ensuring the alliance becomes the ‘one stop shop’ for information and expertise on the protection of free-roaming and captive cetaceans.


  • Continual focus on the application of the Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism, which aims to establish Minimum Requirements in animal management and care.
  • Encouraging the travel industry to take a stronger position against the keeping of cetaceans in captivity.


  • Submission to NOAA in support for including the orca, Lolita, within the endangered listing finalised for the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment (SR DPS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2005.
  • Support of the NY bill S. 6613/A. 8832, introduced by Senator Greg Ball (R-40) and Asw. Amy Paulin (D-88), which proposed the prohibition of orcas from being kept in sea parks or aquariums. The bill was rejected, but since then the US House of Representatives has since designated US$ 1 million to captive orca research.
  • Support of the CA Orca Welfare and Safety Act (A.B. 2140) proposed an end to performances by orcas at entertainment park, to ban orca captive breeding programs, to prohibit the import and export of orcas, and a requirement for current captive orcas to be retired to sea pens that are open to the public. The bill has been shelved until a later decision.


A number of countries have legislation that prohibit the capture of cetaceans from the wild, these include the USA (Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972), the Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention), Mexico (moratorium on the capture of cetaceans, 2001), Chile (Supreme Decree 179/2008), Costa Rica (Regulations 2005) and New Zealand (Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978) and signatories to international agreements, such as the Bern Convention, EU Habitats Directive, ACCOBAMS (Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and the contiguous Atlantic area) and ASCOBANS (Baltic and North Seas).

While there is no global or regional legislation specific to the keeping of dolphins and whales in captivity, a number of countries have legislation (Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Belgium, Brazil, Italy, United Kingdom and USA), 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 the EU Zoos Directive 1999/22.  

Members of industry associations (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM), Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquaria (AMMPA)) 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.


Blackfish is a compelling film documentary about Tilikum, the orca captured from the wild and made to perform to the public at SeaWorld.  It investigates how captivity could have caused this individual, and others, to kill. Together with first-hand accounts from former SeaWorld dolphin trainer, Sam Berg, find out the hidden truths behind the multibillion captive dolphin industry. Learn more here.

"The movie Blackfish expertly demonstrates that orca (killer whales) are extraordinarily intelligent, complex social beings.  I would like to share my personal story of participating in the captive marine mammal industry and subsequent change of heart to help people realize that the exploitation of whales and dolphins for human entertainment and profit needs to end," said Sam Berg, during a visit to Europe in 2013.

The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA)

Born Free Foundation is a member of the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA). The WCA, established in 2013, represents a global community of scientists, non-government organisations and responsible tour operators working together to protect cetaceans and their habitats. The Alliance actively seeks recognition and influence as the largest international network of experts and advocates for whales and dolphins, working globally, regionally and locally to protect the species in the wild and in captivity. Learn more here.

Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism (ABTA 2013)

Established by ABTA –The British Travel Association, in partnership with the Born Free Foundation, and in consultation with global experts, the Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism provides good practice guidance to tour operators, travel agents and excursion providers on the use of, and activities with animals, within global tourism. Relevant to all animals, wild and domestic, free-living and captive, the Guidance requires tourism businesses to meet a series of Minimum Requirements, compatible with international animal welfare standards, and aspire to good practice, which is a consolidation of existing codes of practice, conveyed in a set of five comprehensive documents. With the ultimate aim of ensuring higher standards in animal welfare in tourism businesses and the phasing-out activities recognised as detrimental to the welfare and survival of animals, a further document lists activities that have been deemed unacceptable for sale and promotion. The Born Free Foundation has welcomed the initiative as a positive step in the right direction to phasing-out animal exploitation in tourism. Learn more here.

Through our global initiative, Travellers’ Animal Alert, Born Free is working to investigate, expose and prevent captive wild animal neglect and suffering wherever we can. We encourage feedback from members of the public about wild animals they have encountered both at home and on their travels. Working directly with tour operators, national and regional governments and other animal welfare organisations we will do our best to address your reports of animals in need. Learn more here.

To find out more about captive whales and dolphins

More about dolphinaria in Europe here and UK here.

To find out what you can do

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

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