The UK hasn't had captive whales and dolphins on display for 30 years, but it's not illegal in the UK to keep whales and dolphins in tanks, UK holidaymakers still visit dolphin shows when they are abroad, and UK tour operators still sell tickets. Where do we go from here?
Exactly 30 years ago today, the last captive dolphin attraction in the UK closed its doors. This was a great victory for all those who bravely protested outside the remaining parks, and for the campaigners like us whose efforts had persuaded the UK government to introduce such stringent welfare regulations that it became unviable for zoos and theme parks to continue to keep dolphins and whales. Although, sadly, it wasn’t such good news for the last three inmates, bottlenose dolphins Lotty, Sharky and Betty, who were shipped off to perform at other facilities in Europe.
The closure of the Flamingo Land dolphin show, on 8th March 1993, finally brought the tawdry curtain down on the UK’s captive dolphin era which had started at the same park in 1963. During those 30 years when whales and dolphins were held in captivity in the UK, there were well over 30 attractions, some just seasonal, holding hundreds of dolphins from Blair Drummond Safari Park in Scotland to Margate in the south of England. Dolphins and orcas performed for their supper at well-known institutions like Windsor Safari Park and Brighton Aquarium as well as at some more bizarre locations such as the end of pier shows. During the late 1970s, orcas were displayed in a former swimming pool at the end of Clacton Pier in Essex. These orcas were all captured from the wild in Iceland and it’s heartbreaking to think that they leapt for the crowds against the backdrop of the ocean.
Risk of return
Pressure from WDC, Born Free and others, as well as the public, in the late 1980s and early 1990s persuaded the UK government to commission a review of the UK’s dolphinaria industry. This exposed major inadequacies in the conditions under which whales and dolphins were kept. While the report was very welcome as it stipulated that facilities wanting to continue in the public display business would have to invest in larger and deeper tanks, but it missed a golden opportunity and stopped short of calling for an outright ban.
The fact that the UK doesn’t have legislation in place to prevent new captive whale and dolphin facilities opening is a massive risk and of great concern. It may come as a shock to know that legally there is nothing stopping anyone with the money and the intent from opening up a captive dolphin facility, for entertainment or research purposes, if the welfare standards set over 30 years ago are met.
There are certainly a few entertainment businesses with deep pockets operating in the UK that have links with captive dolphin facilities overseas, and who have expressed an interest in studying dolphins in a captive environment.
Make it illegal
We need clear and explicit legislation to ban whale and dolphin captivity and ensure the horrors of the past never surface again in the UK. Our government purports to have the strongest animal welfare and environmental credentials and should reposition itself as a leader by seizing the opportunity of this potentially easy legislative win while there are no existing facilities to argue against such laws.
The UK must join the ranks of nations such as Switzerland, Costa Rica, India and Croatia who have already implemented a ban on displaying whales and dolphins for entertainment.
We'll be celebrating '30 years captivity free' throughout 2023, and calling on the UK government to end it forever by making it illegal to hold a dolphin, whale or porpoise in a tank.
You can also help us end it forever by refusing to buy a ticket to a dolphin or orca show or a swim-with-dolphins attraction while you are on holiday and spreading the message to your friends and family. In addition, we are calling on all UK tour operators, and especially TUI, the biggest travel company of all, to work with us to ensure the current generation of captive whales and dolphins is the last.