Captive marine mammals traded and exploited for tourist entertainment – When will it stop?


Thousands of marine mammals, including dolphins and small whales, are suffering in captivity around the world in tanks and pens that are one millionth the size of their natural home range. Every year more animals are captured from the wild or bred in captivity for tourist attractions, according to an updated report by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and World Animal Protection. 

The fifth edition of The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity, was released today in Berlin at ITB – the world’s largest travel show. It provides strong scientific evidence and ethical arguments against the captive display of marine mammals, delving into the behind-the-scenes realities of zoos, aquariums and marine theme parks worldwide.

The main concern for these aquatic mammals is the small size and artificial and barren nature of their enclosures. It is impossible to provide these animals anything remotely resembling the complexity of the ocean. In the wild, cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) can travel 60-225 km a day, achieve speeds of 50 km/hr and dive 1,640 to 3,280 feet deep.

“Marine mammals simply cannot thrive in captivity,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, the report’s lead author and AWI’s marine mammal scientist. “Almost all marine mammal species are wide-ranging predators and the best we can provide for them are barren concrete boxes or small sea pen corrals. Captivity leads to a number of health problems, neurotic behaviours and abnormal levels of aggression for these mammals.”

Here in Canada there is also major concern about the treatment of marine mammals in captivity. This report offers further justification for Parliament to pass Bill S-203, also known as the Free Willy bill.

MPs voted last month to send the bill to ban the captivity of whales and dolphins to the Fisheries and Oceans Committee for final review. First introduced in December 2015, the bill was stalled for nearly three years in the Senate before making its way to the House of Commons last October.

World Animal Protection sent copies of the new report to all MPs today urging them to pass the bill before the next federal election this fall. If it doesn’t pass, the bill could die. 

“Canadians have made their support for this bill clear,” said World Animal Protection’s Campaign Director, Melissa Matlow. “This latest report shows the science is also clear – wide roaming, deep diving, social and intelligent marine mammals suffer immensely when kept in small, barren tanks.”

One of the main targets of the bill is Marineland in Ontario. The company has been a strong opponent of the bill, saying it would affect visitor attendance and seasonal employment.

However, World Animal Protection is urging Canadians to be aware of the suffering marine mammals face when they  visit such facilities locally or on vacation.

 “We want them to know that if you buy or sell a ticket to one of these attractions, you are supporting immense animal suffering and fueling the capture of these magnificent animals from our ocean,” continues Matlow.

Public opposition to keeping marine mammals in captivity has intensified due to high-profile documentaries such as “The Cove” and “Blackfish”. World Animal Protection has been working with travel companies through our Wildlife Not Entertainers campaign. In 2016, over 558,000 supporters signed our petition asking TripAdvisor to stop selling tickets to cruel wildlife attractions and they listened.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia is being considered as a possible location for a seaside sanctuary for whales retired from tourist venues. And although this would be a far cry from a full life in their natural environment, it would provide an improved situation.

But the ultimate solution is for these animals to be the last generation of captive marine mammals, with no more to be bred in captivity or taken from their natural habitat.

About World Animal Protection

  • World Animal Protection (formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals) has moved the world to protect animals for the last 50 years. World Animal Protection works to give animals a better life. Its activities include working with companies to ensure high standards of welfare for the animals in their care, working with governments and other stakeholders to prevent wild animals being cruelly traded, trapped or killed. More information on World Animal Protection can be found at
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