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Credit: Seacoast Science Center

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Process fails dolphins in Bruges

On 30th January, Belgium’s Animal Welfare Board announced the results of many months of deliberation by a dolphin working group established in 2011 to look at existing standards for captive dolphins in Belgium. There is one dolphinarium in Belgium in Bruges, Boudewijn SeaPark, which currently holds six bottlenose dolphins in captivity for shows and interaction programmes.

As noted in the Board’s press release, the published opinion of the group reflects a compromise between those involved, which included animal welfare organisations and dolphinarium industry representatives. Two of those groups, however, Planète Vie and Sea First Foundation, felt unable to endorse the group’s opinion, in spite of the time and commitment they had given the group’s work and WDC can understand why.

The dolphin working group’s recommendations fail to recognise welfare problems such as stress or stereotypic behaviour as problems for captive dolphins, in spite of evidence to the contrary, including that obtained through observations of the dolphins held in Bruges. Furthermore, they appear to offer nothing that would contribute to dolphin health and welfare beyond recommending that measures are taken to bring the dolphinarium in line with Belgian law on dolphinarium pool size and the EU Zoos Directive, including a varied, enriched environment (although the captive environment can never mirror the diversity bottlenose dolphins would experience in the wild), the establishment of an education programme and participation in scientific research, suggesting the facility is currently in breach of national and EU law. Their focus appears to be on satisfying the demands of the public on dolphin captivity rather than improvements in dolphin health and welfare. Perhaps luckily, public opinion is shifting away from supporting facilities like Boudewijn Park. A petition has been developed calling on the relevant Belgian Minister not to support the group’s recommendations and to develop strict legislation on dolphin captivity.

WDC continues to call on countries like Belgium to develop legislation to phase out dolphin captivity, including by prohibiting the development of further dolphinaria and the import of further dolphins.