Why an ‘accredited’ tank is not enough

Posted on 06/02/2020 by Katheryn Wise

Expedia Group are still profiting from dolphin cruelty, and why an accredited tank is still a tank

Dolphin shows
Expedia Postcard
Dolfijnen gevangenschap

WAZA’s Code of Ethics state that:

Where "wild" animals are used in presentations, these presentations must:

  • (a) deliver a sound conservation message, or be of other educational value,
  • (b) focus on natural behaviour,
  • (c) not demean or trivialise the animal in any way.

If there is any indication that the welfare of the animal is being compromised, the presentation should be brought to a conclusion.

When not being used for presentations, the "off-limit" areas must allow the animal sufficient space to express natural behaviour and should contain adequate items for behavioural enrichment.

We believe that there is no dolphin venue in the world that meets these criteria. For example, it states that animals should have enough space to express their natural behaviours. Our own research included 336 dolphin venues and even the largest sea pen we identified is 12,000 times smaller than a conservative estimate of a dolphin’s natural home range. Keeping a dolphin in these conditions purely for visitor entertainment is unacceptable.

In terms of conservation and education, the bottlenose dolphin (by far the most common dolphin in captive facilities) is not endangered. Captive breeding programmes serve only to continue the supply of dolphins trained to dance, jump and spin for tourists. These circus-like performances teach nothing of the natural behaviours and social bonds of dolphins, an animal with a brain bigger than ours, capable of self-recognition at a much earlier age than humans.

In fact, last year we released a report with Change For Animals Foundation after surveying more than 1,200 zoos and aquariums linked to the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria. We found that 75% of those venues offered at least one type of animal visitor interaction. This included dolphins performing stunts and being ridden in venues in Portugal, Singapore, Australia and the USA. Accredited venues don’t meet WAZA’s own Code of Ethics so this is not a sound basis for Expedia Group’s policy on captive dolphin venues.

Times are changing – public demand is shifting around captive dolphins and progressive travel companies like Airbnb, booking.com, TripAdvisor, Virgin Holidays, British Airways Holidays, Transat have already recognised this and stopped selling tickets to captive dolphin venues. They have understood that every ticket a travel company sells is another reason to breed or capture more dolphins for entertainment.

Many travel associations are beginning to strengthen their animal welfare guidelines. Although the guidelines around cetaceans are yet to be updated, ABTA launched new guidelines for wildlife tourism last year including making elephant bathing, riding and shows unacceptable as well as close contact activities such as walking with lions, selfies with sloths and other wild animals. The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) also released updated guidelines which underline why a lot of wildlife entertainment venues including those involving captive cetaceans are unacceptable. They state that ‘there is no education or conservation value in tactile interactions with [captive] cetaceans that cannot be achieved better by other means’, a position supported strongly by our own research in our Case Against Marine Mammals In Captivity report (written jointly with the Animal Welfare Institute) and our recently published ‘Behind the Smile: The multi-billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry’ report.

And if we look back at some of the awful incidents that have happened at venues holding captive dolphins, many of these venues are accredited by one body or another (such as WAZA, their regional associations or the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, AMMPA).

For example, it was at the AMMPA-accredited Dolphin Discovery Cancun that a 10 year-old girl was attacked by a captive dolphin towards the end of last year and there have been incidents of dolphins biting visitors at the WAZA and AMMPA-accredited SeaWorld parks, including Orlando and San Antonio.

So while it is great to hear that Expedia Group are revisiting their policies around animal welfare, we urge them to go further and stop profiting from captive dolphins altogether, and play their part in helping us make this the last generation of dolphins in captivity.

After all, an accredited tank is still a tank.

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