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Mindful conservation – why we need a new respect for nature

'We should look at whales and dolphins as the indigenous people of the seas -...
tins of whale meat

How Japan’s whaling industry is trying to convince people to eat whales

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Common dolphins © Christopher Swann

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Microplastics on beach

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A dolphin called Arnie with his shell.

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Common dolphins at surface

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Leaping harbour porpoise

The power of harbour porpoise poo

We know we need to save the whale to save the world. Now we are...
Holly. Image: Miray Campbell

Meet Holly, she’s an incredible orca leader

Let me tell you the story of an awe-inspiring orca with a fascinating family story...

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.