The last dolphinarium in the UK closed on 8th March 1993. So for 30 years, no dolphin, whale or porpoise has had to suffer in the UK in the name of entertainment.
But it's not illegal to keep whales and dolphins in tanks in the UK, so anyone with the money and intent could do so.
The captivity industry is growing globally with new markets exploding in China and the Middle East, UK holidaymakers still visit captive attractions abroad, and UK tour operators still sell tickets.
We are calling on:
The UK government to make whale and dolphin captivity illegal
UK tour operators to support our ethical phase out of captivity to make this generation of captive whales and dolphins the last
You've helped us achieve big wins
Whales and dolphins are too intelligent, too emotionally complex, too social, too mobile, and too big to be confined in a tank. Captivity robs them of what it truly means to be a whale or a dolphin and has a serious impact on their physical and mental health.
Yet they are still captured from the wild and exhibited for our entertainment. Many are forced to perform in shows or interact with humans in ‘bucket list’ activities like swim-with-dolphins experiences.
We’ve been campaigning to persuade UK tour operators to stop perpetuating the cruelty, and our campaign is working. We've persuaded Virgin Holidays, British Airways, Thomas Cook, TripAdvisor and Booking.com to stop selling tickets and we've invited TUI, the world's largest tour operator, to work with us to make this generation of captive whales and dolphins the last.
To make sure the UK never sees a return of the cruel circuses of 30 years ago, we call on the UK government to end it forever by making captivity illegal.
Find out more about our campaign
Click/tap on the Dive Deeper button below
The dark side of captivity
Just like us, captive whales and dolphins suffer serious emotional and psychological damage when they are denied their liberty. When they are removed from their family and friends, taking away all their choice, what makes them fundamentally who they are is gone.
Many of the qualities that make us human also apply to whales and dolphins. Without outside interference, we have both evolved to live rich, long, emotionally complex lives where tight family and friendship bonds are formed and much time is invested in raising young. We share similar personality traits such as curiosity, empathy and sociability and so it should be easy for us to understand that when the conditions to thrive and flourish are removed, mental health suffers.
Like humans, the trauma of incarceration manifests itself in many ways: self-harm, psychosis, depression and aggression. It affects a whale or dolphin’s personality and their behaviour towards other individuals, including their offspring and often the humans training them.
Boredom is the most widespread condition and a serious concern because, as predators, they are denied one of the most important behaviours of their natural repertoire, the ability to hunt and forage. For captive whales and dolphins, the boredom can be relentless.
When a captive individual shows signs of anxiety, stress or neurotic, repetitive behaviours (known as stereotypies), marine parks turn to pharmaceuticals to ‘manage’ that individual. The facilities claim the medication helps maintain mental health in captivity. Psychoactive (or psychotropic) drugs such as Valium and Xanax are administered for the reasons mentioned and also to calm a dolphin during clinical procedures or when preparing an individual for transport between facilities and his/her integration into a new tank. One of the more bizarre applications is its use to stimulate appetite for depressed or sick individuals even though there is no evidence that dolphins can taste anything other than salt.
Dolphins are voluntary breathers - they must be awake to breathe, so perhaps the most alarming side-effect of Valium is that it has been shown to decrease the responsiveness of the respiratory system.
Surely the very fact that psychoactive drugs need to be administered as part of a captive dolphin’s ‘tank management plan’ contradicts any industry claim that ‘their’ dolphins are thriving in a barren, concrete environment and implicitly confirms that medication for mental health issues across various facilities, species and settings is, in fact, widespread.
Sometimes captive whales and dolphins just shut down completely, especially those in solitary confinement. Hour after hour, day after day, year after year, the constraints of an artificial physical and social environment severely compromise the mental health of such large-brained, intelligent, sentient, sapient, emotional beings, whether they were born in captivity or stolen from the ocean.
We're calling on the UK government to make whale and dolphin captivity illegal.
And we're urging the travel and captivity industries to commit to our ethical phase-out model:
- No performances
- No breeding
- No wild captures
- No trade between facilities
- Enhanced welfare conditions
- Support for sanctuaries
It is relatively easy to scoop a wild whale or dolphin out of the ocean and condemn them to a life in captivity, but it is much harder to return them to the wild. Sadly, as much as we would like to see it happen, change in the industry won’t happen overnight. There are more than 3,600 captive whales and dolphins in the world today, most of whom have only ever known life in a tank. It would be irresponsible (and would undoubtedly negatively affect their mental health) to release many of them to the wild. The numerous reasons for this include the loss of their ability to hunt and feed themselves, and their reliance on their trainers for veterinary care to treat the health conditions that years of confinement have caused.
The answer is to make sure that this generation of captive whales and dolphins is the last, and create sanctuaries where those currently held can be retired and, in some cases, rehabilitated for a return to the wild.