More than 2,100 dolphins and whales are being held in captivity at 343 facilities in 63 countries around the world, with the highest numbers of dolphinariums located in Japan (57), China (44), the United States (34), Russia (24), and Mexico (24), according to the Born Free Foundation.
This week, a vote on a California bill that would ban orca captivity was delayed by 18 months, pending an interim study. But, if it passes, California will join a growing list of U.S. states and localities and at least 14 countries that have outlawed the captive display of orcas, dolphins, and in some cases, all wild animals.
Herewith, all the locales around the world that forbid the keeping of orcas in tanks for the amusement of paying customers.
On Feb. 24, 2014, a proclamation declaring that all dolphins should have the right to freedom was passed by the Malibu City Council and subsequently signed by Mayor Joan House. “Whales and dolphins are known to be highly intelligent and emotional creatures,” it declared, “and therefore deserve the right to their own freedom and lives.”
On March 6, California state Assemblymember Richard Bloom made international headlines by introducing the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, which would make it illegal to “hold in captivity, or use, a wild-caught or captive-bred orca for performance or entertainment purposes.” The bill would also ban captive breeding and artificial insemination of captive killer whales in California.
State Sen. Greg Ball surprised anti-captivity activists by introducing a bill in February to ban “the possession and harboring of killer whales in aquariums and sea parks” in the state. On March 25, the Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation voted in favor of the bill. New York has no captive orcas, but the symbolic measure is nonetheless being closely watched by animal welfare activists.
In 1982, activist Mark Berman, now at the Earth Island Institute, home to Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, helped pass the first and only U.S. state law to ban marine mammals in captivity. In 2001, state officials amended the law, limiting protections to just cetaceans after Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia announced plans for a sea lion exhibit. “We will work very hard to defend the law if there’s any attempt to change it further,” Berman said in November 2013.
When a developer proposed in 2002 to construct a dolphinarium at a Maui shopping center, the Pacific Whale Foundation and other groups successfully lobbied the Maui County Council to ban the display of any captive whale or dolphins.
The Bolivian government made history in July 2009 by enacting the world’s first ban on all animals in circuses and other public performance venues. The law was passed following an investigation by the U.K.’s Animal Defenders International, which found widespread abuse in Bolivian circuses, according to The Guardian.
Chilean law was amended in January 2005 to prohibit the capture or import of any cetacean species, “for public exhibition or any other objective associated to its utilization by man.”
The government of Costa Rica decreed new cetacean regulations in July 2005 making it “strictly forbidden” to catch and kill marine mammals, keep cetaceans and other marine mammals captive, or touch, feed, or trap any marine mammal.
In July 2009, Croatia’s State Institute for Nature Protection enacted a regulation banning the keeping of cetaceans in captivity for commercial purposes. The only exemption would be for the rehabilitation and return of sick or injured animals to their natural environment.
The nonprofit group Animal Responsibility Cyprus won a campaign to ban the importation of cetaceans in June 2011. The group says it was also successful in shutting down the Ayia Napa dolphinarium, the only one in the island nation, in 1999. “Subsequent applications to open captive dolphin shows were refused by the authorities,” according to the ARC website. “In spite of Cyprus being a popular holiday spot, you will not see any so-called dolphinariums here.”
A campaign by Animal Defenders International and the Greek Animal Welfare Fund prompted the Greek government to enact a ban in February 2012 on not only dolphin captivity but the use of all animals in circuses. Greek law now forbids using animals in “recreational games, car racing platforms, musical concerts, exhibitions, fairs or other artistic or entertaining festivities.” In January 2014, the law was overwhelmingly upheld by Parliament following a challenge by the Attica Zoological Park in Sparta.
This country’s last dolphinarium was closed down and a ban on dolphin imports was imposed in 1992 after “one of the five illegally-imported dolphins from Ukraine died during the transfer, and another within a week of its arrival,” according to the Armenian Weekly.
On May 20, 2013, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests banned the keeping of captive dolphins for public entertainment. A statement from B.S. Bonal of the Central Zoo Authority declared that cetaceans do not in general survive well in captivity. “Confinement in captivity can seriously compromise the welfare and survival of all types of cetaceans by altering their behavior and causing extreme distress,” he said. The ministry even declared that dolphins “should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights.”
On Feb. 2, 2003, Jorge Salazar Cardenal, then Nicaragua’s minister of the environment, confirmed in a letter to the World Society for the Protection of Animals that his country had “banned the use and exploitation of bottlenose dolphins indefinitely.” Salazar added that the law “guarantees that in Nicaragua, these animals will be fully protected.”
According to WDC, Slovenian law “explicitly prohibits” the display of captive dolphins.
The country’s House of Representatives handed a major victory to captivity opponents when it outlawed the “keeping of dolphins in aquariums or for entertainment purposes” in March 2012. The Swiss Senate also banned the importation of dolphins. Meanwhile, the last two dolphins remaining in the country were sold to a facility in Jamaica in December 2013.
A few countries have standards so strict that it is nearly impossible to keep cetaceans in captivity, including Brazil, Luxembourg, Nicaragua, Norway, and the United Kingdom, where the last dolphinarium was closed in 1993. No company has been able to open in the U.K. since then, “because imposed standards exceed the viability of establishing a dolphinarium in the country,” according to the Born Free Foundation.