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February 21, 2012

Dolphinariums Thwarted in India, Maldives

Humane Society International

  • Choose not to swim with dolphins in captivity. The HSUS

by Naomi Rose and N.G. Jayasimha

Last November, Humane Society International was alerted by our consultant in India that a proposal to build a dolphinarium was moving ahead in the state of Maharashta, in Sindhudurg.

Around the same time, an action alert went out to the larger community of animal protection groups that a proposal to build a “swim-with-the-dolphins” attraction was being considered in the island nation of the Maldives, in the same part of the world.

Rise in the East

The number of dolphinariums in North America and Europe is in decline, while the number in Asia and Africa is increasing. A serious problem with this trend is that the expertise to maintain whales and dolphins (collectively called cetaceans) in captivity with any regard for their welfare is in the West, where dolphinariums were first established many decades ago, not in the East, where dolphin displays are still relatively “new-fangled.”

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In the West, a growing disenchantment with cetacean public display has been fueled by films like “The Cove” and “Free Willy” and by incidents such as the death of orca trainers Alexis Martinez (in late 2009 at Loro Parque, Canary Islands) and Dawn Brancheau (in early 2010 at SeaWorld Florida). In the East, dolphin shows and the revenue they generate are seen by entrepreneurs (some of whom are expatriates from North America or Europe) as sure-fire ways to “get rich quick.”

Taking action

The growing body of scientific evidence that cetacean welfare is severely compromised in captivity is being used by organizations such as HSI to arrest the disturbing increase in dolphinarium proposals in the developing world. We wrote letters to the governments of India and the Maldives, outlining the many ways in which building a dolphinarium undermines environmental protection efforts and compromises dolphin welfare. Other international and many local animal protection groups organized letter-writing campaigns and lobbying efforts to defeat the proposals.

Proposals scuttled

In December, the federal Ministry of Environment and Forests in India told the state government of Maharashta that the proposed Sea World would violate the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. It noted especially that the last attempt to establish a dolphinarium in India resulted in the relatively rapid demise of the dolphins on display, due to “ill-preparedness on the part of management” and “inadequate care of the animals.” HSI applauds the Ministry for reaching this conclusion. We consider our efforts to defeat this proposal, in collaboration with local groups, to be a model for future campaigns against similar proposals around the world.

The Maldives situation has had a similar outcome but via a very different route—the dolphinarium proposal appears defeated for now, due to instability in the government. The Maldives’ president was forced to resign on 7 February 2012 after civil unrest and action by the military. It is unlikely that the proposal for the dolphinarium will proceed in the near term.

Need for awareness

While our efforts to stem the tide of captive dolphin displays will continue, in the end the real solution to protecting these wonderful species lies with the ticket-buying public. Most people who visit dolphinariums love these charming animals, but they often do not see the situation from the dolphin’s point of view. For an intelligent social animal who calls the boundless ocean home, a small tank or pen cannot possibly be humane. As the saying goes, if you love something, set it free. Support our work.

Dr. Naomi Rose is senior scientist for HSI. N.G. Jayasimha is a consultant for HSI.