Dolphins held in captivity - Italy

Italy has 6 dolphinaria holding a reported 26 bottlenose dolphins and 1 Risso’s dolphin.

Oltremare, currently holds the largest number of bottlenose dolphins out of the 6 Italian dolphinaria, and also holds the EU’s only captive Risso’s dolphin. The Risso’s dolphin, now named “Mary G” was found with her very sick mother in 2005 in the port of Ancona. The Fondizone Cetacean took in both the mother and her calf, sadly though the mother died shortly after. The mother’s post-mortem revealed her death was due to parasitic infection and respiratory tract disease. The orphaned calf was then taken to Delphinarium of Riccione where she was reared on artificial milk and weaned onto squid by the staff. In December 2005 she was transferred to Oltremare where she remains, housed with the bottlenose dolphins and used in the dolphinarium’s shows. There are no current plans for Mary G to be released back into the wild, in fact a recent Oltremare report states that after seeking advice from the European Association for Aquatic Mammals that she will not be returned to the sea. Instead Mary G will remain in captivity and be used in scientific studies and research.

Seven of the 26 bottlenose dolphins currently in captivity are wild-caught from the 1980’s. There was a total of 23 wild-caught bottlenose dolphins imported and transferred to Italian dolphinaria in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, of which only 7 remain alive. Zoomarine Italy and Zoosafari Fasano are the only two dolphinaria in Italy that reportedly do not hold any wild-caught dolphins.

Like most of the EU, Italy’s dolphinaria are included in the national zoo law. Additionally, Italy also has specific regulations on the maintenance of captive dolphins, specifically bottlenose. These regulations prohibit contact between dolphins and members of the public and also include comprehensive education criteria for facilities keeping dolphins. If these regulations were correctly adhered to and properly enforced the visitors to Italian dolphinaria would have access to the highest educational standards of any dolphinaria in the EU.  However, recent analysis and visits have found that not all of them are enforcing these regulations and the dolphin shows include only minimal educational content.

Italy’s surrounding seas is a perfect example of the ample opportunities to see whales and dolphins in the wild, an alternative to seeing captive individuals. Trips off the north-west of Italy in the Ligurian Sea offer opportunities to see fin, sperm, long-finned pilot and Cuvier’s beaked whales as well as striped, short-beaked and Risso’s dolphins. The Tyrrheanian Sea is fantastic for many cetacean species, but particularly bottlenose dolphin sightings in the summer months. Off of east Italy, in the Adriatic Sea, bottlenose dolphin can be seen in the north and striped and Risso’s dolphins largely in the south, and around Sardinia there are resident pods of bottlenose dolphins and many other cetacean species.

Italy is Party to ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area) a cooperative inter-governmental agreement for the conservation of marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean and Black seas.