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Humpback whale underwater

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Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

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Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

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Boto © Fernando Trujillo

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Tokitae in captivity

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Orcas at the seabed

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Bringing home the misery of orca captivity

Emma Stallworthy and Caroline Willis spent much of 2019 as residential volunteers at our Scottish Dolphin Centre. Part of their role was to run the centre's events programme and in this guest blog, they explain how they came up with an event to help visitors understand the cruel confinement of captivity.

Tilikum in captivity

Volunteering at Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC)’s Scottish Dolphin Centre in north east Scotland, we’re fortunate enough to encounter wild dolphins on our doorstep. Watching them hunting, playing and travelling vast distances with their friends is a privilege. It breaks our hearts to think of the misery endured by those dolphins and whales who are taken from this life of freedom and forced to exist in a tank to entertain humans. WDC’s work to end captivity is something very close to us.  After re-watching the brilliant film, Blackfish, we were inspired to create a project to raise awareness of the misery of orcas held in captivity.

In the wild, orcas travel freely. A wild orca can travel up to 100 miles a day. In captivity, they may only be able to move a few feet in each direction. In this confinement, they suffer mentally and physically including dorsal fin collapse. An orca’s tall dorsal fin is so majestic when standing proud of the water, and it is designed for stability whilst deep diving and for cutting through the water, as they move so fast! In a tank, they cannot deep-dive and so the muscle collapses which is so very sad to see.

Caroline (left) and Emma (right)
Caroline (left) and Emma (right)

We want every whale and dolphin to be free to enjoy their natural space and so we created #MilesForFreedom to make the issue of captivity relatable. As humans, many of us enjoy the freedom to travel easily. In fact, we welcome visitors from all over the world to our Scottish Dolphin Centre. #MilesForFreedom invited our visitors to buy a badge and take it home with them or away on their holidays. We asked them to take a selfie with their badge and send it back to us.

We have been overwhelmed by the response. Within a couple of weeks, we had sold more than 100 badges. Badges have travelled to all sorts of locations within the UK as well as further to places such as Jamaica, Hawaii and Australia.

This project has opened our visitors’ eyes to just how much space orcas need and how crucial it is to end cruel captivity.

Here are some of our favourite photos:

We would like to thank everyone who supported us and bought a badge, your willingness to be involved has supported WDC’s ongoing efforts to end captivity work around the globe!

Want to support our efforts to end cruel captivity?

Make a donation and we'll put it to good use right away.

The views and opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of WDC.

About Julia Pix

Communications manager - Public Engagement