Education or Entertainment?

Dolphinaria-Free Europe does not believe that ‘Education’ is an excuse that warrants keeping cetaceans in captivity.  In the EU ZOO INQUIRY report (from 2011) we, along with other respected NGO’s found that there was an extremely poor level of education, despite this being a strong claim by the industry for keeping cetaceans.

Graph extracted from EU ZOO INQUIRY DOLFINARIA

We found that many of the performances contained ‘tricks’ which are not a representation of natural behaviour found in cetaceans in the wild.

In the report we stated:
In 31 dolphinaria in the EU, the animals perform in shows or presentations for public audiences, usually in purpose-built stadiums. Dolphins are one of only a few animal species that are presented to the public in the form of shows and, in spite of similar shows with bears, chimps and elephants receiving heavy criticism for
their portrayal of these animals in circus-style performances, dolphin shows remain the primary way in which dolphinarium visitors see these animals in captivity.”

Additionally we noted, that;
During the show, in most cases, commentary is given by the trainers involved in the show or as a recorded voiceover.  Footage and commentary from 18 dolphin shows were analysed for educational content

All but one of the 18 shows was set to music. The average length of a dolphin show was 22 minutes 10 seconds, and the average amount of time spent on the provision of information that could be considered to be educational was two minutes 22 seconds (12.3%). Two shows provided no commentary that could be considered to be educational.”

Basic biological information about the animals exhibited was frequently not provided in dolphin shows. In 17 shows, there was no information provided about where wild dolphins are found. Seven shows did not identify the species shown by name and eight shows did not tell the audience that dolphins are mammals and not fish.”

Sadly we also noted that;
The conservation status of the species exhibited was not provided in any show, and information about the threats faced by wild dolphins was provided in only two shows.”

The education content was also limited when it came to leaflets and signage:
None of the leaflets collected from the dolphinaria visited as part of the EU Zoo Inquiry included information about the biological characteristics, wild distribution or conservation status of the cetaceans held. Only 50%
gave the common name of any cetaceans exhibited.”

“Only four of the dolphinaria visited as part of the EU Zoo Inquiry had species information signs about the cetaceans exhibited. These four all included both the common and scientific names of the cetacean species held. Three also included information about biological characteristics and natural distribution. Only one sign included information on the conservation status of the cetaceans held and the threats faced by dolphins in the wild.”

Figure extracted from EU ZOO INQUIRY report.

Furthermore, the content of signage is at times outdated, hard to read or incorrect.  One example is a sign at the Spanish facility, Loro Parque,  which misleads the public by indicating (incorrectly) that Orcinus orca are not included (NL) (Not Listed) under either CMS or CITES as depicted in this information sign and the close-up below.

Incorrect information sign, Loro Parque, Spain (see close-up below).
Close up of incorrect information sign regarding orca, Loro Parque, Spain.

The importance of the show, over the educational content (shown above) is clearly depicted in these two signs from Loro Parque, Spain.  The one on the left is from 2011 and the one on the right from 2018.  Show times (three times a day, every day of the year) feature as the most prominent part of the signage over this seven year period.

Orca show sign at Loro Parque, where the ‘Show’ information dwarfs the education information.