Nürnberg Aquarium - what happened to the captive dolphins?

Between May 2006 and June 2007 six (6) captive bottlenose dolphins died at the Nürnberg Aquarium, Germany. Five of them were young dolphins, one was an adult.

This series of incidents induced WDCS to investigate the events  with a team of experts. Faced with a blanket refusal by the dolphinarium to cooperate, WDCS litigated for inspection of the files held by the dolphinarium in the hope that the information may shed light on what caused so many dolphins to die.

On May, 26th 2011 the Bavarian Administrative Court ruled in favour of WDCS and decided to give complete access to the  files relating to the captive dolphins in Nürnberg Aquarium to WDCS representatives. The decision confirmed the verdict of the Administrative Court of Ansbach from November, 11th 2009.  Those responsible for Nürnberg Zoo had appealed against the first verdict.

Dr. Karsten Brensing, behavioural biologist at WDCS announced on this occasion: "The verdict is a milestone, a door opener for the independent scientific evaluation of the housing conditions of these highly social and intelligent animals."

Representatives of the Zoo previously argued that the dolphin entertainment industry did not have any impact on the lives of the dolphin’s fellow species in the wild and should therefore be seen as a so called “black box”. In their opinion therefore the right to access the files by the public should not be given to WDCS or any investigators interested in the data.

WDCS, however, clearly argued that both the supply and the display of dolphins in zoos and amusement parks in Europe certainly has a direct impact on wild conspecifics.

WDCS went on to argue successfully that the dolphins held in zoos are, therefore, part of the natural environment and should be treated so under German and European law. This means,  all activities concerning captive dolphins fall under the ‘Environmental Information Act’, and as such are not protected by commercial confidentiality and should, therefore,  be completely transparent to the public.

Currently, WDCS is further investigating the files with respect to making conclusions about the health of dolphins held in captivity. The study, but international experts, is attempting to answer the question of why there was such a high preweaning mortality amongst the dolphins held captive at the Nürnberg Aquarium

WDCS recently reported that the first evidence emerging from the analysis of the documents suggests that the dolphins were systematically medicated with psychotropic drugs in order to manage the dolphins’ behaviour

We will report the results of this work as soon as our study is complete.

For further information’s contact Dr. Karsten Brensing, WDCS, Marine and Behavioral Biologist.

Dr. Karsten Brensing, WDCS, Meeres-/Verhaltensbiologe,
Tel: + 49 176 2267 5679,
E-Mail: karsten.brensing@whales.org