In 2018 a workshop was held at a German zoo to discuss ex situ options for cetacean conservation. This led to the creation of the Integrated Conservation Planning for Cetaceans (ICPC), a subgroup of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). The ICPC proposes to integrate ex situ measures with in situ efforts in small cetacean conservation plans, including holding individual animals in semi-natural reserves and artificial enclosures and breeding them in captivity. Although it is of course vital to protect wild cetaceans from threats such as habitat loss and fishing gear entanglement, Dolphinaria-Free Europe (DFE) has profound concerns with the idea of pursuing ex situ (captive) breeding of small cetaceans as a conservation measure for endangered species. To this end we have produced a white paper, ‘The Seaworthiness of Noah’s Ark: Ex Situ Conservation Cannot Save Endangered Cetaceans’, outlining our position in this regard, which can be read here.
Dolphinaria-Free Europe (DFE) continues to call for an end to the keeping of cetaceans (whales, dolphins & porpoises) in captivity throughout Europe. The death, at Loro Parque, Spain, of the orca calf known as Ula, the calf of wild-born Morgan who remains at the centre of the controversy of captivity, is yet another example of how these animals cannot thrive in captivity. She was reported to have died on 10 August 2021 of “a very critical situation”. Although no further details were given she had been afflicted with an “intestinal pathology” in April 2021.
Only the day before the announcement of her death, Wolfgang Kiessling, the owner of Loro Parque, was quoted in the facility’s blog as stating “It is frustrating and tiring to see the ill-informed requests on the release of cetaceans under human care into the wild or putting them into marine sanctuaries...”. The blog also states “Modern zoological facilities have been taking care of cetaceans since [sic] several decades. All the scientific evidence shows that currently they have longer living [sic] expectancy under human care than in the wild, which probes [sic] that they receive adequate care and thrive in dolphinariums.”
Yet Ula’s death is a reminder that she is not the first calf to die there (the other was Vicky, who died when she was less than one year old) and that only five months ago (in March 2021), a 17-year-old female orca, known as Skyla, also died. These deaths are a reflection of yet another failure by zoological facilities when attempting to justify the keeping of orca for entertainment. In the wild, female orca can live in excess of 60 years and at least one has been estimated to be over 100 years old.
It is DFE’s position that the keeping of all cetaceans in dolphinaria is neither natural nor sustainable and it should be phased out. We believe an immediate ban on the breeding of orca should be implemented throughout Europe in order to phase out the keeping of this species in captivity.
Veera, the female dolphin originally from the closed Särkänniemi dolphinarium in Finland has died at Oltramare, Italy. Upon closure of the Finnish facility, Veera along with Delfi, Leevi and Eevertti were moved to Attica Park, Greece where sadly in 2017 Delfi died. In August 2020 Veera was moved from Greece to Oltramare where she died just a few days ago on 1 June 2021, reportedly of cardiocirculatory arrest, the same condition that caused the death of Delfi.
In August 2018 associate of DFE, Viivi Ahola recorded Veera’s story in a thought-provoking piece entitled ‘Can we now finally wake up and see that we are not alone?‘. Veera was born in the wild, taken into captivity for public display. She sadly never had the opportunity to experience some sort of wild reality again in her lifetime, it is our belief that no dolphin should face the same fate as Veera, to die in a tank far away from the ocean into which they were originally born.
In 2019 DFE called on the public to support our appeal to the Canadian Government to stop the transfer of two beluga whales from Marineland, Canada to L’Oceanografic, Spain. Since that time we have regularly corresponded with both the Fisheries Minister, Bernadette Jordan, and the Spanish authorities concerned over this issue.
We are pleased to report that following this long appeal, we have received confirmation from the Spanish authorities that the importation of the two belugas will not take place. Although we very much welcome this news, we will of course remain vigilant, as this does not mean Spain will not consider imports in the future.
We want to thank all who supported this effort by writing to the Canadian Government. In the case of this proposed import, your action has helped get the result we were working towards.
Loro Parque, Tenerife has expressed concern over the health of Morgan’s calf Ula, who appears to be suffering from an intestinal problem. More details as these become available.
Following an investigation in 2015 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Nature, a report found that the dolphins at the facility were being used for performances that were deemed entertainment having no educational value. Harderwijk has now said that they will change the format of their shows for the dolphins and also plan to send eight of them, along with two sea lions and two walruses to Hainan Ocean Paradise, China.