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Whales are our climate allies – meet the scientists busy proving it

At Whale and Dolphin Conservation, we're working hard to bring whales and the ocean into...
Humpback whale underwater

Climate giants – how whales can help save the world

We know that whales, dolphins and porpoises are amazing beings with complex social and family...
Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

The dolphin and porpoise casualties of the war in Ukraine

Rare, threatened subspecies of dolphins and porpoises live in the Black Sea along Ukraine's coast....
WDC's Ed Fox, Chris Butler-Stroud and Carla Boreham take a message from the ocean to parliament

Taking a message from the ocean to parliament

It's a sad fact that whales and dolphins don't vote in human elections, but I...
Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Tokitae in captivity

Talking to TUI – will they stop supporting whale and dolphin captivity?

Last Thursday I travelled to Berlin for a long-anticipated meeting with TUI senior executives. I...

Earth Day Q&A with Waipapa Bay Wines’ marketing director, Fran Draper

We've been partnered with Waipapa Bay Wines since 2019 so for this year's Earth Day,...

Forgotten dolphins #5 – sanctuaries and other solutions

Please sign our petition now

As our campaign calling on British Airways to end its relationship with SeaWorld gathers momentum (and thanks to everyone who has already signed our petition!), the obvious question is: what are the alternatives for the whales and dolphins in captivity at SeaWorld parks?

One of the most talked about solutions these days for captive whales and dolphins (and there are over 3,000 of them around the world!) is sanctuaries. While there are currently no permanent sanctuaries for whales and dolphins, there are several efforts underway to create them.

WDC’s vision of a sanctuary for captive whales and dolphins is a place where individuals are assessed and prepared for a return to the wild or where they are offered the chance to retire and live out the remainder of their lives in a large, safe enclosure in a natural cove or bay, protected from storms and pollution. Once in the sanctuary, their individual health and welfare needs are taken care of but they have greater choice over their daily lives. Natural behaviour is encouraged, they are not required to perform in shows and public observation is strictly controlled or takes place from a distance.

WDC is working with Merlin Entertainments to establish sanctuaries for bottlenose dolphins and beluga whales. It’s a long and complicated process to find the right site. Sanctuaries need to offer space and protection in clean waters of the right temperature while, ideally, being accessible to visitors so they can support the sanctuary financially, learn about the benefits of sanctuaries and spread the word. It also takes time to secure the necessary financial, political and community support.

WDC is also part of an expert advisory panel focused on the establishment of a sanctuary in North America and we are supporting efforts to develop a sanctuary in Italy.

SeaWorld has been openly critical of sanctuaries, at least for the orcas it holds in captivity. But other facilities in North America are making very progressive, welcome steps to establish sanctuaries for the individuals they hold. In June, the National Aquarium in Baltimore announced that it was pursuing the development of a sanctuary for the dolphins at the aquarium.

SeaWorld could play an important role in the development of sanctuaries for whales and dolphins by supporting the transfer of the individuals it currently keeps in captivity to purpose built enclosures in natural waters. It’s the only real future for the whale and dolphin public display industry. Visitors could still see the whale and dolphin inhabitants, but under more natural conditions and with a dedicated education programme telling the real story about why they are there. Conservation and research could finally be an important part of public display and the whale and dolphin individuals held there or rehabilitated for release could live more enriched, perhaps even longer, lives.

SeaWorld has recently announced that it wants to expand away from only offering animal entertainment and even that it is looking at virtual reality technology as an alternative for some species.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual and the captives remain in their tanks. We are asking British Airways to end its relationship with SeaWorld while the status quo remains. Please join us by signing our petition so we can achieve a similar commitment from SeaWorld to end orca breeding and shows for the other whales and dolphins it holds in its tanks and move them towards alternative solutions such as sanctuaries. Many thanks for all your support. 

About Cathy Williamson

Cathy Williamson was policy manager of our End Captivity Programme until July 2021.