For marine mammals, it’s hell. In the dolphinarium, animals do not have the freedom to express natural behavior, which is a guiding principle in animal welfare. Isolation, separation from loved ones, noisy performances, training sessions and invasive attractions such as “swimming with dolphins” are a source of constant stress for the animals. They often suffer from depression or go insane and die prematurely. Mortality among captive dolphins is significantly higher than among wild dolphins, despite all the challenges of survival in the ocean. Captive birth rates are very low and babies who survive are rare.
Due to high mortality and low breeding success, the captive dolphin population maintain itself on its own. It is necessary to import other – newly wild-caught dolphins, which often happens illegally. The systematic capture of individuals from the same populations to supply the dolphinarium industry poses a threat to the survival of wild populations.
Performances showing how wild animals perform unnatural tricks and behaviors that are never observed in the wild create a misconception about animals among the young audience. They teach children that animals have no right to choose their way of life, and demonstrate that the total breaking of their will for the sole purpose of entertaining the audience is acceptable and fun. A number of studies on the effect of such attractions on visitors show that they have no educational value, but quite the opposite: The average zoo visitor’s concern about animals and interest in the biology and ecology decreases after a visit to a zoo. In their place arises a sense of superiority and dominance of man over other living beings, as well as a negative attitude towards animals (such as avoidance, hostility or indifference).
Direct contact between the public and animals always poses a significant risk to the health and safety of both parties. Dolphins are large and strong animals, and no matter how well trained they are, they can become unpredictable in situations of severe stress. Numerous incidents have been reported, often involving children who have suffered injuries, bites, and broken bones. There are also several cases of trainers killed by animals. . For this reason, in Italy contact between cetaceans and the public is prohibited by law.
Currently, the whole world is trying to keep safe and changing drastically to limit the spread of COVID-19, which is transmitted by airborn droplets. In this situation, which no one can yet say how long will last, we consider it is completely absurd for a public institution to plan a program that involves a large number of visitors – most of whom will be tourists from all around the world – entering the same water as wild animals. This is in complete contradiction with all the recommendations around the global epidemiological crisis, on a global scale.
We would like the remind those institutions that recently, 7 tigers at the New York Zoo tested positive for COVID-19. Experts believe the animals were infected by an asymptomatic zoo employee. Epidemiologists claim they are not surprised that captive wild animals are susceptible to COVID-19 , and the data from this case will be used to study the virus among a wider population of wildlife. This process is only just beginning, and will take time, as any animal test requires anesthesia. For this reason, scenarios in which the animals are tested routinely for the virus between contact with different visitors are not possible, and we expect programs involving direct contact with animals to be banned worldwide from now on.