WSPA report reveals plight of captive dolphins in holiday hotspots

Throughout Mexico and the Dominican Republic, holiday meccas for North American and European tourists, a bleak picture of life for the dolphins in captivity in dolphinariums has been uncovered by a new WSPA report.

The Spanish-language ‘Report on captive dolphins in Mexico and the Dominican Republic’, reveals that the lives of performing dolphins are unnaturally short and full of physical and emotional suffering. The report has been produced by Dr. Yolanda Alaniz, with cooperation from local institutions: the Dominican Foundation for Marine Studies (FUNDEMAR), the Dominican Academy of Sciences and the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, all of which have a history of involvement in dolphin welfare.

The report describes the state of the two countries’ dolphinariums,, found largely in internationally-popular resorts, the acts of cruelty suffered by captive dolphins, as well as the consequences of this cruelty. “Witnessing this confinement, which really is cruelty for such intelligent creatures with such a complex social life, convinced us to uncover the consequences of captivity for dolphins and their population,” says Dr. Alaniz.

“For several years WSPA has supported initiatives to understand the problems of dolphins in captivity. We can thus identify opportunities to run an effective campaign to promote alternatives to see and enjoy dolphins in their natural habitat, without having to confine and submit them to abuse.” Marcela Vargas, Campaigns Manager at WSPA’s Regional Office for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

The report details the generic layout of dolphinariums, in existence in Mexico since 1970 and since 1995 in the Dominican Republic. These are largely designed for the comfort of visitors and without thought for the welfare of the dolphins. Older establishments have closed concrete pools, newer ones may consist of a sealed-off section of ocean, but none have any attempt at a natural habitat or rest areas, away from the gaze of public and trainers. In Mexico, travelling shows still use dolphins and subject them to long distance travel.

The top causes of death among captive dolphins in Mexico all result from their confinement and poor handling: pneumonia, septicaemia, drowning and trauma, due to mishandling by trainers and vets, constant stress leading to chronic illness and lack of protection by environmental officials. In the Dominican Republic, lacking regulatory legislation, trainers were found to have mistreated dolphins in two out of three establishments, while abuse was actually carried out by tourists in one.

Following this report, the next steps are to analyse and modify current legislation in both countries, to improve the conditions of captive dolphins, and work to raise public awareness and understanding that the confinement of these animals, anywhere in the world, is unjustified.

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