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January 30, 2004

International Protections for Captive Cetaceans

Humane Society International

Simply put, there are no international standards for the keeping of cetaceans in captivity, which, given these species' specialized biology and husbandry requirements, is a serious concern to animal advocates.

What's more, many countries, including those keeping these animals in captivity, do not have specific standards or provisions regulating the conditions for, or handling of, captive cetaceans.

However, international trade in all cetaceans is regulated by CITES, and most dolphin species (including those most commonly targeted by the captivity industry) are listed on CITES Appendix II.

Appendix II species are those that are not necessarily threatened now with extinction, but that may become threatened unless trade is subject to strict regulation. International trade in specimens of Appendix II species may be authorized by the exporting nation. Permits are to be granted only if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, including that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild. The "non-detriment" finding is supposed to be based on a scientific review of available information such as population status, distribution, population trend, harvest, and other biological and ecological factors.

There are also regional agreements that include provisions on capture and trade in cetaceans. The Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS), which falls under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species, requires parties to "prohibit and take all necessary measures to eliminate, where this is not already done, any deliberate taking of cetaceans."

The United Nations-administered Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife in the Wider Caribbean Region (SPAW) has placed cetaceans on its Annex II. This program requires that each party "ensure total protection and recovery to the species of fauna listed in Annex II by prohibiting… the taking, possession or killing (including, to the extent possible, the incidental taking, possession or killing) or commercial trade in such species, their eggs, parts or products."

Some countries have banned the live imports or exports of cetaceans. These include Cyprus (imports are prohibited), Hungary (imports), India (imports), Chile (prohibits the import and export of dolphins for public display), Costa Rica (imports and exports), Argentina (imports from the Russian Federation), Mexico (trade in wild-caught animals) and Malaysia (exports are prohibited, as are imports of marine mammal species already found in Malaysia).

Other nations have banned the live capture of cetaceans in their waters. These include Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina (orca captures are prohibited), Nicaragua, Australia, China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong), Indonesia (live captures of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mahakam River are prohibited), Laos (live captures of Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins are prohibited), Chile (capture of dolphins for public display is prohibited), Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

Furthermore, some countries have implemented strict legislation for the keeping of cetaceans in captivity. Among these are the United Kingdom and Brazil, neither of which holds cetaceans in captivity, and Italy, which bans swim-with-the-dolphins and other interaction programs. Recently, Chile prohibited the commercial display of all cetacean species (as well as sea lions, marine turtles, and seabirds such as penguins). The Netherlands Antilles has capped its public display licenses at two; beyond a public display facility that currently exists in Curaçao and one that has been proposed for St. Maarten, no more licenses will be considered.

Finally, the European Union's Zoo-Directive clearly addresses, in its opening language, the requirement for EU zoos to comply with Article 9 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), wherein all "ex situ" activities (that is, activities within a captive setting) should primarily aim to complement "in situ" (or natural habitat) conservation measures.

The above information was provided by Cathy Williamson, Captivity Campaigner for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

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