Today the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals has discussed about dolphinaria in the European Union, an issue which raises concerns and divides public opinion. There are 32 captive cetacean facilities in the EU across 15 Member States which keep a total of 311 animals. The majority of these are bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), but also other species are kept in captivity including 12 orca (Orcinus orca), 11 harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), 2 beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) and an Amazon River dolphin (Inia geoffrensis). Spain, Italy and France have most of the facilities, whilst Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary have no dolphinaria.
Marco Affronte MEP (EFD², IT), a marine biologist and author of the book “Jack the dolphin and other stories of the sea” opened the debate by giving a short appraisal about the history of dolphinaria and their initial objectives to foster research, species conservation and education. He raised then questions about the ethical rightness of keeping these animals for mainly entertainment purposes in the tourism industry and stated – “Dolphinaria have become increasingly anachronistic and don’t reflect any more the values of our time. Therefore, there should be no room for this kind of attractions in the EU.”
Dr. Javier Almunia, the President Elect of the European Association of Aquatic Mammals (EAAM), & National Inspector of, European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) did not share this view. He said that accredited European zoological facilities play a positive role in biodiversity conservation, scientific research and education. EAZA zoos have more than 60.000 employees and convey over 32 million euros for the “in situ” conservation of critically endangered species. The vast majority of the European Dolphinaria is accredited by professional associations and meets the highest standards on animal management. Most of the arguments about the negative effect of captivity in cetaceans are based on myths. Scientific research proves that the general welfare conditions of cetaceans in European Zoos are good. He said “EAAM and EAZA are willing to work together with the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals to continuously improve the well-being of the animals housed in zoological facilities”
Gaia Angelini, Campaigner for Wild Animals at the LAV (Italy) gave a presentation about the use of dolphins in captivity and the trend towards the creation of sea-refuges for stranded and captive dolphins. She said – “Over the last decades, civil society’s perception about cetaceans in captivity has drastically changed. More and more people are convinced that cetaceans belong to their wild habitats and should not be confined in zoological parks with the argument that they serve conservation and education purposes. In fact, these animals are mainly exploited for entertainment and exhibition. Together with primates, cetaceans are among the most intelligent creatures on Earth. They have self-awareness and a complex social and emotional life. The keeping of these animals in captivity cannot meet their species specific needs. Their use for entertainment and exhibition purposes is definitively a relic from the past which should be overcome. Together with the NGO Marevivo and the Thetys Research Institute, LAV is working on a feasibility study to establish a sea-sanctuary, based in Italy, where to retire captive dolphins”.
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