One of the world’s leading marine life experts is asking families to think twice about watching captive dolphin displays when they are travelling abroad.
The plea comes from Dr Joan Gonzalvo who has carried out new research to dispel the myth that dolphins’ natural lives can be replicated in artificial tanks.
He has been studying wild dolphins for more than 15 years and is now dismantling the idea that their needs can be met in dolphinaria.
His latest report was released today by the Born Free Foundation and the Italian animal protection association, Lega Anti Vivisezione, to challenge the idea that keeping dolphins in captivity is acceptable.
His paper, What About Dolphins in Captivity, spells out the reasons why cetaceans should not be held captive, explaining how they are intelligent, cognitive animals with good memories, self-awareness and can problem solve.
Dr Gonzalvo added: “I invite those considering visiting a dolphinarium with their children to think twice about the message we want to give to future generations.
“Do we have any right to hold a highly evolved, intelligent and sensitive animal captive, to force it to conduct a rather clownish behaviour by performing tricks and stunts for our entertainment?
“If that is the case, we should seriously review our concept of what is entertaining and the kind of relationship that we want to have with nature. Let’s make people conscious about what is hidden behind the frozen smile of a captive dolphin.”
Dr Gonzalvo has spent more than 1,000 hours observing dolphin groups in their natural environment.
He says the small concrete tanks of captive dolphins do not compare to the wild because they are mobile, fast-moving and deep-diving mammals sometimes travelling thousands of miles. They also form complex social networks in the wild but, in captivity, are forced into “artificial social groupings determined by humans”.
One of the arguments he also contests is that dolphin shows have an educational purpose.
The documentary Blackfish has had a huge impact on the industry
Commenting on the paper, Adam M Roberts, chief executive of the Born Free Foundation, said: “Compassionate conservationists the world over are speaking out against keeping marine mammals in captivity and Dr Gonzalvo’s research provides ample scientific evidence that they are right to do so.
“Since the global launch of the film Blackfish, the captivity industry has been crippled by public awareness – marine mammals belong in the wild: not in concrete tanks; not performing demeaning tricks for gawking onlookers.”
Born Free Foundation is taking its evidence to the European Parliament on behalf of the Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition.