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Report Exposes Suffering at Whale and Dolphin Attractions

The Case against Marine Mammals in Captivity, fourth edition

The Humane Society of the United States

WASHINGTON — Every summer, many families make trips to see dolphins and orcas perform spectacular feats in marine-themed amusement parks. Humane Society International/The Humane Society of the United States and the World Society for the Protection of Animals have issued the fourth edition of their in-depth report, "The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity," to educate tourists about the suffering that goes on behind the scenes.

"The public should be aware that many facilities, especially those in developing countries, capture their dolphins directly from the wild," said Naomi Rose, Ph.D., senior scientist for Humane Society International and co-author of the report. "Dolphins suffer terrible trauma during capture and the animals left behind may never recover from the loss of these members of their community."

The fourth edition, released today, reflects the changing nature of the captive display industry. The industry has evolved over the years; while some display facilities have closed in the United States and Europe, more have opened in the Caribbean and Asia, where there are few or no regulatory restrictions on operators. Japan's brutal dolphin drive hunts have continued to capture bottlenose dolphins and other species for sale to display facilities, primarily in Asia, and promotion by cruise lines is contributing to the expansion of "swim with" activities in the Caribbean. These trends, combined with increasing concerns about hurricanes that have damaged display facilities and killed dolphins, as well as a growing body of research on dolphin intelligence, increase the need to phase out captive marine mammal displays.

"The captive display industry operates under the veil of conservation and education yet the evidence is clear that these complex and intelligent animals are being exploited for human entertainment," said Sharanya Krishna Prasad, WSPA U.S. program officer. "The HSUS and WSPA believe that the captive experience for marine mammals is so contrary to their natural experience that it should be rejected outright."

Among the Report's Main Findings:

  • Annual mortality rates for captive orcas are three times as high as for their wild counterparts.
  • Fewer than 5 to 10 percent of zoos and aquaria are involved in substantial conservation programs. The amount spent on these programs is a mere fraction of the income generated by the facilities. Simply exhibiting wildlife is not considered conservation.
  • Whale and dolphin captures still occur routinely around the globe, particularly in Asia, the Caribbean, Russia and the South Pacific. Most of these captures are inhumane and result in numerous deaths.
  • Dolphin sea pen enclosures in Asia and the Caribbean are considered to be at extreme risk from hurricanes and tsunamis. Their construction also degrades coastal habitat, destroying mangroves and damaging coral reefs.
  • Swim-with-the-dolphins attractions are proliferating throughout the Caribbean and Asia. These facilities are largely unregulated — even in the United States, the swim-with regulations have been suspended since 1999 — and most of the newest ones are being stocked with wild-caught dolphins from unstudied populations.
  • Bottlenose dolphins face a six-fold increase in risk of mortality immediately after capture from the wild and immediately after every transfer between facilities. They never become accustomed to transport, and the stress they experience can be fatal.
  • Marine mammals in captivity have a history of premature deaths from a variety of causes, including drowning, ingesting foreign objects and attacks from other animals, according to the Marine Mammal Inventory Report, which is maintained by the U.S. government as required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
  • The primary justification for the public display of marine mammals is the educational benefit of these exhibits. However, no one has ever published an objective, detailed evaluation of the effectiveness of educational programs offered by marine theme parks and aquaria.
  • Public display is often justified with the argument that essential scientific research is conducted on captive animals. However, a majority of this research relates to improving husbandry practices, not to solving conservation problems. In addition, captive animals are rarely considered ideal research subjects when attempting to answer questions related to conservation issues.
  • Injuries in interactive encounters (whether swim-with attractions, petting pools or the like) occur far more frequently than officially reported.
  • The risk to the public or to caretakers from marine mammals is significant, from injuries to contracting infections or diseases. On the flip side, infection through close contact with people threatens captive marine mammals.

Read the complete report by downloading the PDF. Hard copies of "The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity" are available. Please e-mail Naomi Rose at nrose@hsus.org to order one.


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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is the world's largest alliance of animal welfare organizations, with a growing network of nearly 1000 affiliated societies in more than 150 countries. With consultative status at both the United Nations and the Council of Europe, WSPA is building a united global animal welfare movement to further our vision of a world where animal welfare matters, and animal cruelty ends. On the web at wspa-usa.org.

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