Lies, Damned Lies and Propaganda

On the 16 June 2013, The Sunday Times under the headline 'Stress drives captive whales to kill trainers' published yet another sadly predictable and partisan article regarding the care of cetaceans in captivity.  The article focused primarily on the captive care of killer whales off the back of the recently released film "Blackfish" but also made more generalised comments on the welfare of cetaceans in captivity.

One particularly irksome comment was the erroneous claim that Britain has banned zoos from keeping whales and dolphins.

Such a specific claim is not new and maintained not only by members of the animal-rights industry but also by some zoo operators who one would hope would know better.

Notices displayed in the Brighton Sea Life Centre in 2009
A case in point being the Merlin Entertainments group owners of the Sea Life brand.  However, this may be in part to their somewhat bizarre position against cetaceans in human care and their close association with the anti-captive Whale and Dolphin Conservation lobby group and SeaLife's collusion in the infamous animal-rights led dolphin release project "Into The Blue".

In an exchange that pointed out this error, The Sunday Times journalist Jonathan Leake defended his position by stating that a DEFRA spokesperson had stated to him that:
“We [DEFRA] are concerned about the keeping of cetaceans in captivity and none have been kept in the UK since the early 1990s.  We believe that cetaceans are intelligent, social animals with complex needs that are unlikely to be met in captivity.”
This is a very surprising and ill-informed comment from a DEFRA spokesperson that appears to disregard the findings of their own commissioned report on to the welfare of captive cetaceans.

In 1985, the Department of the Environment (now part of DEFRA) commissioned biologists Dr Margaret Klinowska and Dr Susan Brown to research and review the keeping of cetaceans in UK zoos and aquaria. 

The report "A Review Of Dolphinaria" was published in 1986. The authors had the authority to recommend that cetaceans should not be held in captive care if their research supported such a position. However, it did not and they maintained that these animals could be successfully kept in animal collections given the right conditions. They stated
"...No substantial contra-indications to the keeping of cetaceans have been found which would not apply equally to the keeping of any other wild-caught animal...This is not to say that there are no problems with cetacean keeping, only that the problems are not dissimilar to those encountered in wild-caught animal husbandry in general, and could be solved...”
In 1986, a Steering Group of experts and officials was set up to review the recommendations of  "A Review of Dolphinaria" and after consultation with various interested parties in 1988 they published "Dolphinaria: Report of the Steering Group" which setup recommendations for the future welfare and keeping standards for cetaceans in UK animal collections to be implemented by 1993.

Since the publication of the new guidelines, no further official amendments or sanctions have been put in place regarding the welfare of captive cetaceans in the UK.

This was confirmed in May 2007 in an official response in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who stated:
"There are currently no cetaceans being kept in captivity in the UK, and other than for purposes of rehabilitation, there have not been any kept since the early 1990s. While it is not illegal to keep cetaceans in this country, the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 (as amended) aims to ensure that, should cetaceans be kept at an establishment for exhibition to the public, the establishment is licensed and the animals kept in accordance with strict standards relating to their health and welfare requirements. Those standards are set out in the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice and its supplement on the keeping of cetaceans in captivity. In addition to the requirements of the Zoo Licensing Act, all animals kept in captivity are subject to protection under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. We therefore have no plans to bring forward legislation to prohibit the keeping of cetaceans in captivity."
This position remains, as in the most recent edition of the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice published in 2012 the following statement regarding any future display of cetaceans in the UK states:
"Cetaceans have not been kept in UK zoos or aquariums for some years. The key references are Klinowska and Brown's Review of Dolphinaria."
Therefore, it can be clearly seen that the continued claims that the UK has banned the keeping of dolphins and whales in zoos and aquaria are false.  Moreover, extensive research by Klinowska and Brown found no reason why such a ban should be undertaken.