Given that its dolphin-awareness month, it seems like the ideal time to reflect on what has recently been achieved for captive dolphins, what is yet to be achieved and the work being undertaken by Born Free to end the keeping of dolphins in tanks. As our own Sam Goddard reports, it’s been quite a year as our battle against dolphin captivity continues.
Since March 2016 the world has witnessed multiple events that have brought us a step closer to ending the captivity of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) than ever before.
In March 2016, SeaWorld announced they would immediately ban the captive breeding of their orcas*, or killer whales. The ban applies to all the orcas owned by SeaWorld and will apply to any park they open in the future. The ban was soon followed by the welcomed announcement from the US State of California, who became the first state to ban the breeding and keeping of orcas in captivity. The California Orca Protection Act makes it illegal to keep orca in captivity for display, performance, or entertainment purposes and will come into effect on 1st June 2017. After that date, captive orcas may only be used for educational presentations. Because of this, the SeaWorld Park in San Diego California ended the use of their orca in theatrical style shows; which they did in January 2017. The other SeaWorld parks in Florida and Texas will do the same in 2019.
In Europe there has also been positive change. The Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition, co-founded by the Born Free Foundation, has made some notable achievements in ending the exploitation of captive cetaceans. In December 2016, the City Council of Barcelona decided not to build a new dolphinarium in Barcelona, following pressures from Born Free and the Spanish NGO, FAADA**.
It doesn’t stop there. Ongoing efforts to target companies that sell tickets to dolphinaria also moves this issue in the right direction.
In 2016, Trip Advisor banned ticket sales to attractions that allow contact with wild animals and Thomas Cook announced a new animal welfare policy that requires all animal attractions to evidence full compliance with the ABTA Global Guidance for Animals in Tourism.
Most recently, Virgin Holidays have announced a new policy, stating that they will no longer sell or promote new captive cetacean facilities. Whilst these announcements do not end captive dolphin exploitation, they are pushing the captivity industry down a path of positive change.
I have been fortunate enough to witness these momentous changes in the industry whilst working for the Born Free Foundation. They have been truly shocking to me in the best possible way and give me confidence that much has been achieved for captive cetaceans. Yet there is much still to do.
For instance, the market in China for marine mammals is enormous and represents the fastest-growing market for live cetaceans on the planet. The country currently has 39 marine parks, with another 14 under construction.
Since 2013, seven orcas have been imported from Russia to China for public display, and in the last four years at least 70 Taiji dolphins have been sold to Chinese parks. Furthermore since 2010, China has imported 209 wild bottlenose dolphins and at least 18 wild caught beluga whales.
There is still much work ahead of us to end the capture and captivity of cetaceans at a global level. This is something that Born Free continues to focus on; for as long as cetaceans remain in tanks, they will be suffering. This is something almost too sad to consider, yet acknowledging the sorrowful as well as the good is part of the journey as a campaigner. A prime example of this is the story of Tilikum the orca.
On 6th January, Tilikum, ‘the most famous orca in captivity’, passed away after a long standing lung infection. He was captured from Icelandic waters in 1983 and had been in captivity for 33 years. His life was the feature of the film documentary, Blackfish; which revealed the suffering endured by orca in captivity. Since the global release of Blackfish in 2013, the attendance, profits, stocks and reputation of SeaWorld – a company that once seemed untouchable – plummeted. This is all down to Blackfish, and one in particular - Tilikum.
Tilikum’s death came just two days after that of the famous wild orca, Granny. Aged 105 years old, she had enjoyed a long life of freedom in the wild.
The lives of both Tilikum and Granny remind me that the continued flight against the exploitation of cetaceans in captivity is something that cannot waver until all the tanks are empty.
Here in 2017, Born Free continues to focus on this issue through the #SanctuariesNotTanks campaign, which aims to spread the real facts of cetacean captivity to the public, to parents and to children and then ask the question; do you still want to visit a dolphinarium?
If you are thinking about visiting a dolphinarium this summer, please do not buy a ticket. With your help and support, we can continue to challenge the captive dolphin industry and end this archaic practice.
* the largest species of dolphin
**Foundation for Action in Defence of Animals