Captive cetaceans: A Global issue

Captive cetaceans:  A Global issue

Around 3000 individual whales and dolphins, collectively known as Cetaceans are thought to be in captivity around the world today. They held across 63 countries, with the highest number of marine parks in Japan - 57, China - 44, USA - 34, while Russia and Mexico, both have 24. These ‘marine parks’ are particularly common in popular tourist destinations, such as Florida (USA), the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico), Dominican Republic and Cuba (Caribbean), the Canary Islands (Spain) and in coastal resorts of Turkey.

Some countries, such as Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Slovenia and Switzerland have banned the keeping of dolphins in captivity. Chile and Costa Rica prohibited the keeping of cetaceans in 2005. Greece banned all animal performances, including marine animals in 2012, and in 2013, India, the world’s largest democracy, passed legislation prohibiting the development of dolphinaria, referring to dolphins as “non-human persons”. The United Kingdom has no captive dolphin facilities but does not have a ban. Instead, they have set standards that make the establishing a dolphinarium commercially unviable.

The USA has the highest number of individual captive dolphins  - a shocking 556, with SeaWorld the largest individual keeper, holding around 160 individual cetaceans across its three marine parks. SeaWorld also holds the highest number of captive Orcas with 24 of the total 56 currently in captivity worldwide. China holds captive a total of 315 cetaceans, whilst the European Union keeps 300 whales and dolphins.

Most of these cetaceans are used to perform in Marine Parks purely for human entertainment. They are also used in public interactions like “swim-with” and in “petting” activities, or as a prop for a souvenir ‘selfie’. Back in 2010, the BBC reported that swimming with dolphins was one of the top  "things to do before you die” for the British public.

Both orcas, commonly called killer whales, and dolphins are members of the dolphin family Delphinidae. Orcas are the largest member of the family.

In the USA, before the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1972, roughly 1133 dolphins had been captured in U.S. waters. Between 1964 and 1989, 138 orcas were captured worldwide for aquariums. While the MMPA makes it more difficult to capture marine mammals from the wild, aquariums can still apply for permits or import animals caught in other countries.

Despite their claims, marine parks do not help to conserve marine mammals through they're  breeding programs, in fact, most marine mammals commonly bred in captivity are not considered threatened or endangered. Aquariums have no intention of returning captive breed animals to the wild. In fact, they frequently argue that the success of such endeavours would be unlikely and oppose release efforts.

Captive marine mammals live in small, sterile enclosures and are deprived of their natural activity level, social groups and interactions with their natural environment, and many captive marine mammals develop stereotypic behaviour and/or aggression not known to occur in the wild. 

What has been learned from captive animals is that orcas and dolphins are more intelligent than previously imagined, providing further evidence that a life in captivity is inhumane.

We don’t believe that people need to see captive orcas and dolphins performing ‘tricks’ to understand the beauty and intelligence of these sentient animals. Keeping wild animals in captivity simply for human amusement is wrong.