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We’re using cartoons to urge the UK government to end captivity forever

To mark the 30th anniversary of the closing of Britain’s last dolphinarium, and as part of our campaign to urge the government to #EndCaptivityForever by making it illegal, we staged a unique event at the House of Commons in conjunction with leading cartoonists from the Professional Cartoonists Organisation (‘Procartoonists’).


Professional cartoonist Glenn Marshall is here to tell us more.

We at Procartoonists were so pleased to work with Whale and Dolphin Conservation to support their campaign to make whale and dolphin captivity illegal in the UK. We became involved because cartoons work really well in the short attention span, rapid scrolling world, of social media. They’re very quick to digest and they jump out of timelines - to use that terrible term they’re very ‘snackable’ and are often shared and become viral, making them ideal for raising awareness about this issue.

"Guys, this isn't what I thought swimming with dolphins would be like."
© Will McPhail PCO

A personal connection

When I was a teenager, my father gave up his job to work on Anglesey in North Wales where he became both a beach warden and a fisher. Consequently, I spent a lot of time either near or on the sea and would, on rare occasions, have chance encounters with both dolphins and porpoises in their natural habitat. I’ve been lucky enough to see them all over the world from southern Ireland to Patagonian Chile. I even witnessed a spectacular show of whales breaching in the Bay of Biscay while on a ferry to Bilbao.

Humpback whale at surface with pectoral fins
Observing whales and dolphins in their natural habitat is magnificent © Scott Portelli

Not all encounters have been so pleasant.

Travelling in Indonesia, I once got up before dawn to be taken on a long-tail boat to try and see dolphins. However, upon arriving at the harbour, my hopes were dashed as I found around 30 other boats full of tourists, all trying to do the same. Whenever dolphins surfaced, over thirty vessels sped in their direction with a racket of whiny, high-pitched motors, and the smell of gasoline. The dolphins would subsequently dive and resurface 100 metres away in the other direction, only for the boats to turn and charge at them again. I like to think the dolphins were just taking the mickey, but I suspect it must have been pretty distressing.

Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) Feeding bottlenose dolphins Rangiroa French Polynesia.

Can you help end captivity forever in the UK?

Recently, when I was telling someone about WDC’s campaign, they said that they’d been to an aquapark in Florida many years ago and that the dolphins in the show they saw looked happy! Dolphins have a particular problem in as much as they appear to have this huge perma-grin.

© Glenn Marshall PCO
© Glenn Marshall PCO

And here’s the thing.  There are two stories told about whale and dolphin captivity. There is the tourism industry’s peddling of families enjoying once-in-a-lifetime encounters with happy dolphins.  And there is the reality of intelligent, social individuals, enduring lifetimes in tiny concrete tanks, while being drugged and forced to perform for their dinner.  There is the seductive lie and the difficult truth.

Cartoons cut through this. They harness humour and satire to catch people unaware, getting them to think twice about an issue.  We hope ours will help WDC erode the expensive propaganda of those who want to profit from whale and dolphin captivity.

© Tony Husband PCO
© Tony Husband PCO


Through cartoons, we sought to shed light on the unsuitability of life in confined tanks for orcas and dolphins. In the wild, they live in large social and family groups and travel huge distances. There are some tragic stories of how they are treated once they are caught, and a particularly upsetting one is a story many of you reading this will already know, about an orca called Toki who has been in captivity in Florida for over fifty years. She was first captured around the age of four in 1970 and to put that in context, Richard Nixon was US president at the time. There are now plans to release her into a sea sanctuary in the waters off British Columbia, from where she was first taken. It’s believed her mother is still alive in those waters and is the age of 90!

Toki's life has been far from the one she would have led if free in the ocean.
Toki's life has been far from the one she would have led if free in the ocean.

Speaking spoof to power

30 years after Britain’s last dolphinarium closed, it is still legal in the UK to keep whales and dolphins in tanks.  If the UK joins other countries that have already banned this cruel practice it’ll pressure others to do the same. By launching our exhibition with WDC in the House of Commons we wanted to reach those people with the power to ban captivity in the UK – MPs.

The event was kindly hosted by Labour MP Virendra Sharma, on the terrace of the House of Commons, and we put on an exhibition of 20 of our cartoons, with more on a TV carousel.  Fellow Procartoonists Sarah Boyce and Mike Stokoe and I joined the WDC team, and we had our colleague Simon Ellinas on hand drawing live caricatures.

Glenn Marshall Professional Cartoonist copy 2
Mike Stokoe, Sarah Boyce and Glenn Marshall (PCO) copy

Sarah, Mike and I are delighted to be part of such an important campaign.

WDC's Carla Boreham gave an impassioned speech about the need for a ban, and the brilliant poet Matt Harvey performed his new poem on the issue.  I spoke on behalf of the PCO and fortunately, none of the attending MPs howled like banshees or waved their order papers at me. In fact, we got a lot of support. Speaking to North Thanet MP Roger Gale, who backs many animal welfare causes, he told me about a dolphinarium in the north of England over 30 years ago which had such a high death rate that they were said to have needed to replace some of the creatures almost fortnightly!  At a time when politics can be so divisive, it was encouraging to see so much cross-party support for a ban.

Here's an action video of me creating one of my cartoons for the event.

Looking forward

The exhibition now moves on to Herne Bay Cartoon Festival from 4th - 17th August where we’ll be running a whale and dolphin cartoon drawing workshop, and WDC will be launching an online virtual gallery, allowing us to reach even more people.  Our members will be releasing the cartoons into the press and internet, where they can nibble away at the glossy lies of the dolphinarium industry.

By coming together and using the power of cartoons, we can make a difference in the fight against whale and dolphin captivity.

Please help us today with a donation

If you are able to help, every gift, whether large or small, will help us end captivity forever.

About Hayley Flanagan

Hayley is WDC's engagement officer, specializing in creating brilliant content for our website and publications.