Dolphinaria-Free Europe Coalition: It's a No From Me

Perhaps the most frustrating thing when reading these kinds of reports in the popular press is that there seems to be no acknowledgement of the independent and objective research that has been published as regards this matter. It seems that specific quotes by animal-rights supporters are being excepted verbatim and no effort been made to counter such specific claims with easily available scientific evidence.

The BBC's environment correspondent Claire Marshall recently reported on the contentious suspension of the filming of a TV reality show in Portugal entitled "Dolphins with the Stars" due to a campaign by various animal-rights groups operating under the umbrella name of the Dolphinaria-Free Europe Coalition. This consortium of groups are currently lobbying to shut down all exhibits of dolphins and whales within the zoos and aquariums of Europe. This campaign is being orchestrated by the group ENDCAP who are opposed to the concept of keeping wild animals in captivity

Ironically, is interesting to note that the animal-rights groups involved in this particular publicity stunt are often heard claiming that animals such as dolphins have no effective protection when in captive care. Yet, in this instance, the Portuguese authorities were concerned the programme may have contravened European zoo legislation and asked for the zoo involvement in this program to be suspended. Therefore, placing some doubt that the animals at least in this facility do have some oversight under the law to protect them.

Although, the actions of the various animal-rights lobby groups has very little to do with animal welfare but more to do promoting their own animal-rights political agenda in seeking the prohibition of animals displayed in European facilities which they state are "exploitative".

The reporting by the BBC did not really help balance the claims made by various members of the animal-rights lobby led by Daniel Turner of the Born Free Foundation who stated:
"Whales and dolphins are hugely intelligent and social species, which when deprived of space and environmental complexity, develop abnormal behaviours such as stereotypic behaviour (repetitive behaviour without any reason), heightened aggression and in some cases, early mortality."
It is unfortunate the BBC did not seem to make an effort to garner other opinions on the statements made by Daniel Turner from other professionals and scientists working with marine mammals who may certainly have a different opinion on what he stated.

To compound this problem the BBC reporter went on to voice her own opinion on the matter that seems to support much of the dubious allegations made by Daniel Turner:
"For a long time there has been a debate about the ethics and effect of confinement on cetaceans - the family of aquatic mammals that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises - especially as more is discovered about their intellectual and cognitive abilities. They are seen as among the more intelligent species on earth. They have complex social networks, recognise themselves in mirrors and have been shown to keep track of more than 100 words."
The disappointing statement of the reporter is clearly quite disturbing. More so as it demonstrates a lack of any actual research being undertaken before making this secondary quote as there is quite a bit of independent and objective research on the welfare of captive dolphins in the public domain that could have been easily reviewed.

As a case in point, in 1986 UK government commissioned an independent scientific investigation into the welfare of dolphins including the ethics and welfare of captive dolphins. This report "A Review of Dolphinaria" by Dr Margaret Klinowska and Dr Susan Brown was published in 1986 after extensive research both in the published peer review literature and field research observing dolphins in captive environments. It should be pointed out that if Drs Klinowska and Brown had found evidence to suggest that cetaceans (dolphins and whales) could not be successfully kept in captive care they had the power to recommend the banning of the keeping of these animals.

However, the conclusion of this report was that there was no evidence that dolphins could not be successfully maintained in captive care.  Therefore (and with the guidance of the subsequent Steering Committee) welfare regulations for the keeping of cetaceans were introduced and incorporated into the U.K.'s Zoo Licensing Act.

More recently independent research was commissioned by the Ontario provincial government in Canada who asked marine mammal scientist Dr.David Rosen (assisted by Dr Heather Koopman and Dr.Colleen Reichmuth) to look into the issue of the welfare of marine mammals with a special emphasis on dolphins.

The report "Developing Standards of Care for Marine Mammals in Captivity and Recommendations Regarding How Best to Ensure the Most Humane Treatment of Captive Cetaceans" was published in May 2014. Here again the researchers could find compelling evidence that prohibited the keeping of the smaller cetaceans in captivity. Nevertheless, in a similar vein to the "Review of Dolphinaria", they codified recommendations for the welfare of these animals that could be placed within a structured legal framework to ensure the consistency of welfare standards for these animals throughout the province of Ontario.

It is interesting to note that the issue of abnormal (stereotypical) behaviour in dolphins mentioned by Daniel Turner is addressed in the two reports cited above and do not appear commonplace and seem displayed under novel situations.
Three cases of stereotypic head-pressing behaviour in captive bottlenose dolphins are described by Greenwood (1977). The animals had been put into small enclosures, again for medical treatment, and the behaviours ceased on return to large pools. Bel'kovich, Krushinskaya and Gurevich (1969) note behavioural changes in animals moved to isolation in small research pools and Caldwell and Caldwell (1972) describe similar symptoms in a show animal in, similar circumstances (see above). (Klinowska and Brown, 1986)
Moreover, instances of high mortality (survivorship) of bottlenose dolphins also mentioned by Turner were found to be the not the case when scientifically reviewed as far back as 1986 by Klinowska and Brown and this has been replicated by other researchers.

Predictably, the article had to mention the animal-rights film "Blackfish" despite the fact that this documentary was exclusively focused on killer whales and not bottlenose dolphins the species being displayed in ZooMarine.

Furthermore, since it is release the film "Blackfish" has received considerable amounts of criticism for both its presentation and factual content.

However, this comes as no surprise as the groups opposing the programme "Dolphin with the Stars" have an active agenda to extend the original remit of such films as "Blackfish" to encompass many other animal species they wish to see prohibited currently displayed in zoos and aquariums.

The article is of course correct in citing the fact that the majority of the animals in the EU have been acquired through captive breeding. In fact, no animals have been imported from the wild to mainland Europe for over a decade with the bulk of imports ceasing in the mid-1980's (see note at the end of this article). The contention that the EU would now allow imports of wild caught cetaceans from outside European waters is extremely contentious.

Certainly, animals from drive fisheries in places such as the Japan are unlikely to get import permits as such capture operations would be considered inhumane. This has been the position of the United States since 1993 as regards animals derived from drive fisheries been imported into this country for public display. In any event, why would European zoological collections want to court such controversy when animals can be acquired successfully through captive breeding programmes.

As to the claims of the intellectual prowess of dolphins it is expedient to cite the recent published work in 2013 by Dr Justin Gregg: "Are Dolphins Really Smart: the mammal behind the myth". This book deftly rationalises the contention of the elevated intellect of dolphins that seems to pervade the popular psyche - this not least due to the controversial research work of Dr John Lilly in the 1960s with dolphins. It should be noted that mainstream scientists working with dolphins have for a number years disputed the claims of the likes of Dr Lilly.

Moreover such things as social complexity, self recognition (mirror experiments) and symbol recognition are not those exclusive domain of dolphins and has been seen in many and diverse species of bird and mammal including elephants, chimpanzees and magpies.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing when reading these kinds of reports in the popular press is that there seems to be no acknowledgement of the independent and objective research (such as that cited above) that has been published as regards this matter. It seems that specific quotes by animal-rights supporters are being accepted verbatim and no effort seems to be made to counter such specific claims with what is in many instances easily accessed  scientific evidence.

As an example, one only has to look at Dolphinaria-Free Europe's website. Here they present a quote from a report EU Zoo Enquiry: Dolphinaria they co-authored with other animal-rights organisations in 2014.
Trade data records indicate that 285 live cetaceans have been imported into the EU between 1979 and 2008, in spite of a prohibition under EU CITES Regulation 338/97 on imports of cetaceans into the EU for primarily commercial purposes.
The issue with this statement is that it is misleading and factually distorted. Unfortunately, this is a common problem with these kinds of self published, quasi-scientific reports by the animal-rights lobby.

The statement seems to give the impression that this was homogeneous data between 1979 and 2008 as regards animals being imported which not correct. Unfortunately, "EU Zoo Enquiry: Dolphinaria" does not breakdown the figures it presents either into years or species.  Therefore, it cannot be ascertained as to what animals were imported either in numbers or years.
Further, the presentation of the time span of 29 years in EU history is also deceptive. In 1979, there were only nine members of the European Union. However, by 2008 there were 28: an increase in membership by 68%. Many of these new members already had zoos and aquaria that displayed dolphins such as Portugal, Spain, Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Malta, Bulgaria and Romania which would now be added in this data set.

Putting all these facts together, it can be seen that the statement from this report is statistically of no value and has been produced to mislead not to inform the reader.

hatever the atheistic merits of a television series entitled "Dolphins with the Stars" it seems unlikely that this would involve any compromise of the welfare of animals involved by ZooMarine  Moreover, it is possible that such a show would have been able to incorporate scientific and educational information within its framework for the benefit of the public as claimed by ZooMarine. Bearing in mind is that many people who watch entertainment shows such as this may well not be the same type of audience who would watch a wildlife documentary.

In conclusion, it was never the intention of the EU Zoo Directive to arbitrarily close zoos down. The whole idea of this legislation was to ensure good standards of animal husbandry and that zoos and aquariums promoted both education and conservation within these facilities. The use of the EU Zoo Directive by animal-rights groups such as ENDCAP and their various followers is not that of honest brokers trying to support and improve standards within zoological collections. Their clearly stated objectives is to see zoological collections closed down as they are anathema to these groups political ideology. No improvement in animal welfare would ever placate these organisations and their behaviour should be noted as belligerent mischief making and nothing more.

Notes on the importation of wild caught dolphins into the EU: The last importation of wild caught bottlenose dolphins into the EU was a number of dolphins imported to the Lithuania Sea Museum - the last of which was caught in the Black Sea 1998.  In addition, six animals were imported to Mediterraneo Marine Park in Malta from Cuba in 2000 and number of dolphins and two beluga were imported to L'Oceanogr√†fic in Valencia in Spain in 2003. It should be noted that generally most wild caught animals displayed in Europe were imported prior to 1990 with the  majority of dolphins now exhibited having been acquired through captive breeding programmes. In fact, some facilities such as ZooMarine, Italy and Palmitos Park in the Canary Islands display animals entirely derived from captive breeding. As far as killer whales are concerned of the 12 animals displayed in the EU only one "Freya" was acquired by wild capture in Iceland in 1982 with one other being a rehabilitated animal "Morgan" that stranded in the Netherlands in 2010 which has been deemed unreleasable due to her age and hearing impairment.  Reference: Cetabase and CITES Database.