Whale and dolphin captivity in the EU - United Kingdom

We are proud to say the United Kingdom is one of the twelve EU Member States without captive dolphins. This is largely due to the creation of strict legislative standards for keeping cetaceans in captivity in the UK, which led to the closure of the UK’s dolphinaria in the early 90s.

Captivity began in Britain in 1862 when the first harbour porpoise was captured from the wild and brought into captivity. The harbour porpoise was captured off the shores of Brighton by a local fisherman and taken to London’s Bond Street before arriving in poor conditions at the London Zoological Gardens. The Harbour porpoise died shortly after it’s arrival, tragically thought to be the result of head injuries and even blindness it sustained during capture. London Zoo then collected more cetaceans, each one dying after very short periods of time in captivity. 

During the 1960’s and 1970’s dolphin shows became one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Britain with over 30 shows running with 300 dolphins in captivity. It was during this time that concern and awareness grew over the negative aspects of captivity, creating a large amount of media interest and public support toward ending the practice. In 1972 the United States also created the Marine Mammal Protection Act which made sourcing of wild dolphins for dolphinaria extremely difficult and expensive. 

In 1989, a huge 4000 signature petition calling for “Rocky” the bottlenose dolphin’s release from captivity at Morecambe’s Marine Land was handed to the UK government. By 1991, "Rocky’s" case became one of the most publicised calls for release into the wild with huge amounts of media coverage, public protest and celebrity support. This lead to the eventual closure of Marine Land and the creation of the "Into the Blue" project which saw "Rocky" and two female captive bottlenose dolphins, "Missie" and "Silver" relocated to a rehabilitation sea pen and then released in the Turks and Caicos Islands in September 1991. Within days Rocky was seen swimming with a pod of wild dolphins. 

In the early 90’s a Supplement to the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice created additional standards for UK cetacean captivity; setting, at the time, the world’s strictest standards for cetacean enclosures. These standards were prohibitively expensive for the existing UK dolphinaria to meet and the last one closed in 1993. WDC very much hopes the UK will remain dolphinarium-free. The UK is a Party to ASCOBANS (Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas) which aims to maintain and achieve favourable conservation status for small cetaceans throughout the agreement area.