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Tilikum, the father of Nakai. © Paul Wigmore

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German zoo data reveals captive dolphins are drugged

WDCS can reveal that initial indications from data provided by the dolphinarium in Nuremberg, Germany, suggests that dolphins who could not get along with each other at the facility are being separated and tranquilized with psychotropic drugs.

Evidence suggests that changes in behavior, due to problems like pool size and unnatural grouping of animals, can be handled with medication only, highlighting how unsuitable a practice like keeping dolphins in captivity really is.

Access to this previously hidden data has only been possible following a legal victory by WDCS (the first of its kind) at the Appeal Court in Munich, Germany, in 2011. The court found in WDCS’s favour by granting access to all information relating to the display and husbandry of captive dolphins at Nuremberg Zoo. The Nuremberg data suggests that Diazepam is not only given as an appetizer but used to interfere with the animals’ natural behaviour.

“Diazepam – which we all might know better as Valium – is a psychotropic drug which is used to treat acute states of excitation and fear. The given dose is recommended for example with regard to medical examinations like bronchoscopy in order to immobilize the dolphin“, comments Dr Karsten Brensing, dolphin expert and campaigner for WDCS Germany. 

In 2006 and 2007 several dolphin calves and an adult female died at the Nuremberg Zoo. WDCS took action and asked representatives of the zoo, as well as the City of Nuremberg (who have responsibility for the Zoo) for access to all data relating to the display of dolphins for an independent review. The request and access was denied. Representatives at the Zoo had argued that the public had no right to access such information, claiming that keeping dolphins in captivity has no impact on dolphins in the wild. However, WDCS was able to demonstrate how keeping dolphins in captivity does relate to the conservation of the species in the wild, successfully arguing that the continued removal of wild dolphins for use in Zoos impacts upon wild populations.