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Successful campaigning starts at home – how WDC supports grassroots end captivity campaigners

For the last 20 years, I’ve been leading Whale and Dolphin Conservation's work to end the capture, trade and keeping of whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity. When I started in my role, back in 1998, the UK no longer had any captive dolphin attractions and so my work has always been international.

What we’ve always tried to do, and what is essential for success is find, support and work with local, like-minded, groups and individuals. Success may be preventing the construction of a new dolphin attraction, stopping the capture of whales and dolphins from the wild or the import of individuals from one country to another or, more recently, creating sanctuaries for captive individuals. In every case, having someone we can turn to in the country of focus, who understands the local politics and public attitudes and knows or can meet with the decision-makers, can help turn a tricky situation in our favour in our efforts to protect whales and dolphins.

Performing dolphins in China © China Cetacean Alliance
Performing dolphins in China © China Cetacean Alliance

If you are able to make a donation, it will help us end captivity for good.

In June, people from 10 different animal protection and environment groups gathered in Seoul's Gwanghwamun Square to demand the closure of Geoje Sea World, one of South Korea’s eight facilities holding whales and dolphins. In what would seem to be a truly extreme form of entertainment, the facility reportedly allows visitors to ride on the backs of captive belugas and bottlenose dolphins. Citing the risk of disease transmission, the risks to the health and welfare of the whales and dolphins and the lack of education provided by the facility, the groups also called on the government to prohibit the import of endangered species. Many of the dolphins held in South Korean tanks were captured in brutal drive hunts in Japan. A petition calling for legal protection for marine mammals in South Korea has collected over 40,000 signatures.

Protesters demand the closure of Geoje Sea World in South Korea © KAWA
Protesters demand the closure of Geoje Sea World in South Korea © KAWA

There is growing opposition to whale and dolphin captivity in South Korea, supported by the strength of campaigning groups working to address this issue, including the Korean Animal Welfare Association and Hot Pink Dolphins. South Korea is one of only a few countries where captive dolphins from local populations have been returned to the wild.

In China, WDC is a member of the China Cetacean Alliance, working with groups based in China and internationally to investigate and expose the import and display of a rapidly increasing number of wild-caught whales, dolphins and porpoises in the country. Investigators on the ground can visit facilities, report on conditions and use Sina Weibo, one of the biggest social media platforms in China, to spread awareness. The Alliance has produced two reports on the status of whale and dolphin captivity in China, including a comprehensive guide to relevant legislation. It has also run awareness raising events and produced educational materials.

We work with campaigners in China © China Cetacean Alliance

As an active member of Dolphinaria-Free Europe, WDC works with groups and individuals across Europe to address proposals to establish new facilities and support the development of legislation to phase out captivity. In the Caribbean, we rely on reports from concerned locals to warn us about proposed developments and provide local expertise we can use in communications to governments and other stakeholders, to persuade them not to allow captive facilities or dolphin imports to go ahead. In India, it was local experts who helped us persuade the authorities to issue a ban on dolphinaria throughout the country.

Protest in the UK in the 1980s © Marine Connection
Protest in the UK in the 1980s © Marine Connection
Protest in Korea 2020 © KAWA
Protest in Korea 2020 © KAWA

The image above of Korean activists holding banners and protesting against whale and dolphin captivity in their country reminds me of the similar photo from the 1980s of campaigners outside Windsor Safari Park in the UK, before the last remaining facilities closed here. Some things never change. I’m so proud that the efforts of campaigners, including the Whale Conservation Society as we were then, led to the closure of all UK captive whale and dolphin facilities. I truly hope that that one day soon, the Korean campaigners we support will enjoy the same sense of pride.

Please help us today with a donation

If you are able to help, every gift, whether large or small, will help us work with campaigners all over the world to end captivity.


About Cathy Williamson

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

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