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Dolphinariums - Problems associated with a life in captivity

Animals affected

Dolphins, Killer whales, Beluga whales






Space: Even in the largest pool in the world cetaceans would not be able to swim the distances they do in the wild. Not just because of the dimensions of the surface, but also because of the depth. It is estimated that dolphins may go up to 90 metres below the surface in order to feed from certain types of fish. The deepest point of the deepest pool in any dolphinarium in Spain is 10 metres. In other cases the cetaceans have to live in pools of between 3 and 6 metres deep. The shape of these pools is also inadequate for animals that can reach up to 50 km/h in a straight line. The pools are designed so that the audience can watch the animals from different angles and so it is oval-shaped. This means that the cetaceans have to swim in circles around the edge. 

Artificial groups: Dolphins in captivity have to live in small groups which have been chosen by humans. There are cases of cetaceans which have been kept in complete isolation like, for example, Lolita the orca at Miami’s Seaquarium, or Kshamenk the orca at Mundo Marino, Argentina. Some individuals just don’t get along with the others and conflicts arise which cannot be solved as the animals have nowhere to go and hide. The animals don’t all come from the same place and neither do they all settle in to life at the aquarium in the same way, which makes understanding each other even more difficult.

Artificial feeding: Dolphinariums cannot supply the wide variety of food that cetaceans have available to them in their natural habitat. Their diet gets reduced to a few different species of fish, which incidentally are frozen, not fresh. This format implies an extra nutritional challenge for these animals, which in general have to be artificially hydrated and supplemented with vitamins to avoid illness. 

In the wild cetaceans can go up to a depth of 90 metres under the water. In Spain the deepest dolphinarium is only 10 metres deep.  

Absolute dependence: In dolphinariums the cetaceans depend on people for everything. They need medical attention to be able to survive the multiple problems arising from their captivity. They need to be fed daily because there is no food in their pools. They have to obey people if they want to receive either of these things. In other words submitting to the will of their trainers is the only thing which keeps them alive.

Stereotypies: These are repetitive behaviours which have no physiological function, which animals present as a response to a situation of permanent stress or anxiety. In the case of cetaceans they may be seen to swim following exactly the same circuit, they may repeatedly jump at the same place, bite the edges or bars of the pool, or regurgitate food again and again. Apart from being a clear indication that the animal does not possess sound mental health, these behaviours may cause them further physical injury such as dental or digestive problems.           

Aggressiveness: Contrary to the behaviour of these animals in the wild, there have been numerous cases of captive cetaceans attacking people. Over 70 cases of orcas attacking their trainers have been reported worldwide, 4 of which were fatal. The most recent deaths took place in the United States in 2010 and at Loro Parque, Tenerife in 2009. There have also been several cases of dolphins attacking visitors, trainers and even divers carrying out maintenance on the tanks.


Our action

At European level

We act via the foundation SOSdelfines, a campaign led by FAADA which advocates the end of cetaceans in captivity. It counts on the support of the organisations ANDA, Animanaturalis, Born Free Foundation, Ocean Care, One Voice, Mare Vivo and LAV.

  • We are working to raise awareness in society by sharing informative material and giving talks in schools. We explain the problems that cetaceans suffer from in captivity, hoping that people will stop visiting these places in a not-to-distant future.
  • In Spain we spread the information to different town councils and local governments, advising them on improvements and legal modifications against this type of practice.

Through Dolphinaria-Free Europe, a coalition made up of different organisations, professionals and European experts in marine mammals which is working towards ending their captivity.

  • We work alongside organisations from other countries to make these topics subject for debate in the European Parliament.


At international level

We work with experts in cetaceans and other scientists with the aim of defining and creating solutions, like for example, the creation of marine sanctuaries where dolphins which are currently being exploited can go to die with dignity. 


What can you do?

  • Choose not to go to centres that keep cetaceans in captivity.
  • Tell you family and the people at school or work why they shouldn’t visit dolphinariums.
  • Write to your mayor or the local government about how you feel about having a dolphinarium in your area.
  • Give out informative leaflets to groups in your town, or places close to a dolphinarium or in areas with a high concentration of tourists. Ask for our material by writing to formacion@sosdelfines.org.
  • Take part in events like Empty The Tanks, an international demonstration held yearly to  show our collective rejection of the captivity of cetaceans.
  • Share information on social networks and sign active petitions against these centres and their practices.

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