Captive Breeding or Death Factory?

Inside the tank of Festa Dolphinarium

Festa Dolphinarium

The average lifespan of dolphins in captivity is 12 years, 9 months and 8 days, compared with between 30 and 50 years for dolphins in the wild.

Early mortality in dolphinariums and aquariums is observed among all cetaceans, not only dolphins. This is due to the combination of the unfavorable factors that inevitably go hand in hand with life in captivity – stress, despair, limited space, unnatural environment, separation from family, inability to exercise their natural behavior.

Dolphins caught in the wild survive longer in tanks and aquariums than dolphins born in captivity. The infant dolphin death rate in captivity is estimated to be 52%, while that of wild dolphins is 17%.

The statistics are based on data from Ceta-Base, the world’s database of cetaceans in captivity. At the Festa Dolphinarium, since its opening in 1984 13 dolphins have been documented (5 are still alive today). However, 3 of the 4 unregistered dead babies reported by the Dnevnik website last year have not been listed. Such omissions make us wonder – how many more babies were born and died in that tank without anyone knowing?

We started Googling and answers began to appear. Among the articles and materials about the dolphinarium, we noticed identical PR texts from the same template were abundant and have been published on a periodical basis over the past 20 years. Only the names of dolphins that have been alive at that given time were updated. The same is observed in the history of corrections made on the Dolphinarium’s Wikipedia page.

In other interview articles and quotes from dolphinarium employees, we see that, just like in their PR templates, the statements they make to the media have remained unchanged over the years. Although dolphin names are constantly changing, the dolphinarium keeps repeating about every newborn baby that this is the first dolphin born there birth since Bimbo in 2003.

“Before this, the last birth in the dolphinarium was four years ago, when Bimbo was born.”
Darik, 2009

“The last dolphin born in the dolphinarium is 14 year old Bimbo.”
Nova TV, 2019

We found traces of 12 more dolphins (two caught in the wild and 10 babies born in the dolphinarium), other from those mentioned in Ceta-Base and those revealed in the Dnevnik articles. In total, this adds up to 28 dolphins that have been held captive in Festa Dolphinarium in Varna from 1984 that we know of. You can read a small part of their sad stories in the timeline below.

All tanks and aquariums have limited capacity, however breeding programs never stop. Most babies don’t survive, and few grow up to replace other dolphins who can no longer perform in the show. Excess animals can always be sold for profit, this is first and foremost a business.

One of the factors contributing to the high mortality of infant dolphins in dolphinariums is that many of them are the result of incest. This is unavoidable in marine parks that breed animals. In mammals, incest often results in unhealthy births, birth defects, and a particularly high number of stillbirths. A common practice, including in Bulgaria, is for the captive facility to buy several animals (at least 2 – male and female) of a species (eg. dolphins, sea lions), and then start breeding them. Most babies die, but rarely one survives and grows up. Once it reaches puberty, it becomes the next potential parent and is immediately enrolled in a breeding program where it will be forced to copulate with her mother and sister if it is a boy or give birth to her father and brother’s children, if it is a girl.

This is the story of Yoanna, the mother of the baby dolphin who died in august 2019 only 9 days after its birth during the show at Festa Dolphinarium in Varna. The baby’s father was Kimbo, Yoanna’s brother. This type of pregnancy is neither a precedent nor an incident in the Bulgarian dolphinarium, where no measures whatsoever are taken to prevent inbreeding. On the contrary, they encourage it. Yoanna’s last known baby was stillborn two years earlier, and many others have had the same fate.

Pipi (Пипи)

She is amongst the firs dolphins in Festa Dolphinarium. She was caught in the wild near Guatemala, after which she was bought from a private dolphinarium in Barcelona and brought to Bulgaria on June 31st 1984.

Poppy (Попи)

She was also amongst the first dolphins in Festa Dolphinarium, caught near Guatemala. She is the only one who survived a long time in Varna. She died in the beginning of 2018, at the approximate age of 59.

Split (Сплит)

He was named Split because his dorsal fin was torn during his capture. Also caught near Guatemala, amongst the first dolphins in the Bulgarian dolphinarium.

Reigna (Рейна)

She was also brought from Barcelona, together with Pipi, Poppy and Split.

Dolly (Доли)

She was brought together with Kimbo from Cuba, shortly after Pipi, Poppy, Split and Reigna. Before that, all of them were free dolphins in the Caribbean Sea.

Kimbo (Кимбо)

Caught in the wild from the Caribbean Sea, brought to Varna together with Dolly.

Antonio (Антонио)

He was brought from Cuba by plane. He travelled 18 hours with two flights, from Havana via Prague to Varna.

Yoanna (Йоана)

She was born in captivity in Festa Dolphinarium. Her father is Kimbo. According to the dolphin trainers, she “is quick tempered”. In other words, she refuses to obey and is harder to break. When she was young, Yoanna swam at full speed towards a metal grate door and hit her head so hard, that she broke her teeth and jaw. We don’t know whether this was an attempt to escape from her prison or the grate was separating her from her mother, but we can say for certain that it was hardly because she is “so playful”, as described by Festa Dolphinarium. Since then, Yoanna is disfigured, but she is still forced to participate in the show. Yoanna is still alive and captive today. She is used for breeding with her brother Bimbo and her babies are often born dead or die at an early age.

According to the letter we received from the Food Safety Agency (responsible for animal welfare in Bulgaria), Yoanna was born in 1995 in Festa Dolphinarium. However, according to all the information available in the media, she was born in 1992. This makes us wonder whether the registered birth in 1995 was another baby dolphin.

In the Food Safety Agency’s records, the birth of a baby dolphin in Festa Dolphinarium is documented in 1999. In the same letter that we received, the Agency informs us that this was Bimbo, one of the dolphins still alive today. Again, this seems impossible because Bimbo was born in 2003.

Presy (Преси)

Presy was born. She was mentioned only once in the media, we do not know her exact birth date.

Pepi (Пепи)

Born on June 26, dies three months later on September 28.

In the beginning of that year, Festa Dolphinarium awaits the birth of a new baby. After this, they never speak of this baby again.

Bimbo (Бимбо)

Born in captivity on November 14. His parents are Dolly & Kimbo.

Lucy (Люси)

Lucy, Bobby and Djidji are dolphins who were mentioned on Festa Dolphinarium’s Wikipedia page in 2006. In February, those names were deleted and replaced with Dolly, Kimbo and Poppy.

Bobby (Боби)

Lucy, Bobby and Djidji are dolphins who were mentioned on Festa Dolphinarium’s Wikipedia page in 2006. In February, those names were deleted and replaced with Dolly, Kimbo and Poppy.

Djidji (Джиджи)

Lucy, Bobby and Djidji are dolphins who were mentioned on Festa Dolphinarium’s Wikipedia page in 2006. In February, those names were deleted and replaced with Dolly, Kimbo and Poppy.

In the middle of this year a baby dolphin was bornbut the dolphinarium employees avoid talking about it, because it is still in critical age and it is not certain if the baby will survive“.

Eileen (Айлийн)

27 август: Eileen was born in captivity. Her parents are Dolly & Kimbo.
September 3: Baby Eileen is filmed in the tank in front of the audience when she is 8 days old.

One more baby dolphin was born in captivity in Festa Dolphinarium. The baby has been mentioned only once in the media.

Barbie (Барби)

Another baby which appeared in Festa Dolphinarium at this time.

According to information from the Ministry of Environment and Waters, a baby was born in captivity and died this year in Festa Dolphinarium.

Mika (Мика)

We do not know who the dolphin named Mika is, but this year Festa Dolphinarium replaced the name of Poppy, who was getting old and couldn’t participate in the show anymore, with the name Mika on their Wikipedia page . This information has not been updated since, and to this day the page says that Mika lives in the Varna dolphinarium.

Bianca (Биянка)

March: Festa dolphinarium buys 2 sea lions (Bianca is the female), despite

the ban on the use of wild animals for entertainment in Bulgaria


Leo (Лео)

March: Festa Dolphinarium buys 2 sea lions (Leo is the male), despite

the ban on the use of wild animals for entertainment in Bulgaria


May: Stillbirth of a baby dolphin. The mother is Yoanna, the father is her brother Bimbo or her father Kimbo. Yoanna was forced to perform during the last stages of her pregnancy. After the stillbirth, she was given only 2 days to recover, before being forced to perform again.

Bochko (Бочко)

June 18: The sea lion Bochko was born healthy. Festa Dolphinarium employees are surprised because they didn’t know the mother Bianca was pregnant.

August 11: Bochko dies from drowning in a unsecured tank shaft due to staff negligence. Until this point he had not been registered with the MoEW.

Flipper (Флипър)

November 19: Flipper was born in captivity. His parents are Dolly & Kimbo. His birth was kept secret until March 23rd 2019, when the Dolphinarium show season starts. At the age of 3 months, he is forced to perform in the show and to jump through hoops together with his mom.

1 август: A baby dolphin was born in captivity in Festa Dolphinarium. The parents are Yoanna and her brother Bimbo or her father Kimbo.
August 9: The 9-day old baby dies during the show.