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30 years captivity free – what you need to know

Our campaign

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 a new facility could open tomorrow because there are no laws to stop it. This is a massive risk.

We're calling on the UK government to make whale and dolphin captivity illegal.

#EndCaptiityForever (1)

Watch the video

Our Captivity Campaign Champion - zoologist, filmmaker and wildlife presenter Billy Heaney takes us on a nostalgic journey back to the dolphin and orca shows on Clacton Pier over 30 years ago, shedding light on the history of dolphinariums in the UK, and explaining why we need your help to urge the government to end captivity forever by making it illegal.

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.

The captivity industry is growing globally with new markets exploding in China and the Middle East, and UK holidaymakers still visit captive attractions abroad, and UK tour operators still sell tickets.

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.

Step inside our virtual exhibition, where humour meets truth, and satire becomes a powerful weapon against injustice.  

We’ve teamed up with the talented cartoonists at the Professional Cartoonists' Organisation to present this exhibition exposing the cruelty of captivity. After premiering it with MPs at the Houses of Parliament, we invite you to experience it yourself inside a derelict aquarium. 

Use your mouse to look around and click on the circles on the floor to move through the aquarium. You can see the cartoons up close by clicking on the camera icons.

Thanks to PT 3D Designs

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.

Depressed:

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.

Drugged:

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.

Desperate:

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.

The solution:

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.

The story so far...

March 2024

Success! Jet2 holidays and easyJet holidays both end their support for captive whale and dolphin attractions.

December 2023

Aquariums in South Korea are banned from buying any new whales or dolphins.

8th September 2023

We take our petition to 10 Downing Street, representing more than 12,000 people who signed, urging the government to make it illegal to keep a whale or dolphin in a tank in the UK ever again. 

July 2023

We celebrate another win as the new online Thomas Cook extends its ban to include all attractions holding whales or dolphins captive.

March 2023

We mark 30 years since the last dolphinarium in the UK closed and call on the UK government to #EndCaptivtyForever by making it illegal.

February 2023

We buy a share in TUI, attend its AGM and ask the board and shareholders if they are considering our offer to help them commit to an ethical phase-out of captivity. The CEO says he is aware of our dialogue with TUI and asks to see our proposal himself.

 

September - October 2022

We launch The Dark Side Of Captivity, a major campaign uncovering the devastating impact that confinement has on the mental health of whales and dolphins. More than 15,000 people sign our open letter encouraging TUI to support our ethical phase-out of captivity. 

 

April 2022

We hand over our petition to senior TUI staff and discuss TUI's support for cruel whale and dolphin captivity. TUI tell us that they are reviewing their animal welfare policy and have already stopped business with several captive dolphin attractions. 

 

November 2021

Expedia announces it will no longer sell attractions and activities that involve whale or dolphin performances or interactions.

2021

More than 20,000 people join our Lockdown Never Ends campaign calling on TUI to commit to making this the last generation of whales and dolphins in captivity.

2012-2021

WDC helps create the world's first ocean sanctuary for captive whales. We partnered with the SEA LIFE Trust on one of the biggest developments in captive whale and dolphin care and protection in decades.

2020

French law to phase out whale and dolphin captivity is proposed for discussion in parliament in 2021.

2020

Canada outlaws holding whales and dolphins in captivity.

2019

Major WDC campaign success when Virgin Holidays announces it will drop all captive whale and dolphin attractions.

2019

Major WDC campaign success when British Airways announces it will drop all captive whale and dolphin attractions.

2018

Thomas Cook announces it is dropping all captive orca attractions.

2017

Thomas Cook announces it is dropping some dolphin attractions from its books.

2017

Virgin announces they won't take on any new attractions that feature captive whales and dolphins for theatrical shows, contact sessions (such as swim-with-the-dolphins experiences) or other entertainment purposes.

2015

We take our message to the heart of the company by attending the annual shareholders meeting of British Airways' parent organisation, IAG.

2014

Almost 250,000 people sign our petition calling on British Airways to stop selling tickets to captive whale and dolphin attractions. We present your signatures at a constructive two-hour meeting with British Airways.

2014

Days after we launch our campaign, Virgin announces it will no longer work with facilities who buy whales and dolphins captured from the wild and invites others in the tourism industry to sign up to this pledge too.

2014

WDC launches a campaign calling on Sir Richard Branson to end Virgin Holidays' support for places like SeaWorld.

2013

Game-changing documentary Blackfish is released and BAFTA nominated for Best Documentary.

2013

India bans whale and dolphin captivity following WDC campaign and passes law referring to dolphins as 'non-human persons'.

1993

The UK’s last captive attraction closes its doors after a government review, in part triggered by our 1987 report, calls for minimum standards  covering factors such as pool size, feeding, water quality and handling which proved financially unviable for facilities.

1987

WDCS (as we were), together with Born Free, exposes the terrible conditions whales and dolphins, like Winnie the orca at Windsor Safari Park (pictured), are kept in at attractions in the UK.

Latest news and views on the campaign issues

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