– By Natalie Green
This month finally saw dolphin captivity banned in Mexico City! After two failed attempts, the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City passed a transformative bill outlawing dolphin captivity for the purpose of performance, training, swim-with programs, research and therapy. According to dolphin advocate Yolanda Alaniz, the vote was widely agreed upon: “All parties, from rights to strong lefts voted just as one…Deputies recognised dolphins as sentient beings who suffer living in concrete tanks”.
In particular, this ban will affect the two bottlenose dolphins at Dolphin Discovery Six Flags Mexico, which was ranked as the sixth-worst tank for dolphins and whales in North America by In Defence of Animals (IDA). Dolphins at the Six Flags park are forced to perform circus acts to loud music and be hugged and kissed by visitors. Not only is this treatment extremely stressful, the captive dolphins are also likely to suffer from psychological trauma and chemical irritation from the water. Thanks to the new bill, they will soon be moved from their sad concrete tanks to sea pens, which will resemble the living conditions of their natural, ocean environment much more closely.
Marine parks in Mexico City have just 6 months to submit protocols for the appropriate rehoming, rehabilitation and reintroduction of their dolphins so they can live the rest of their lives in peace. If these new laws are violated, they face a fine of up to 300,000 pesos. This is fantastic news, and another major step in the right direction. Dr. Toni Frohoff, a cetacean scientist for IDA, agrees: “This landmark ban will spare generations of animals from cruelty and sends a clear message that the public increasingly rejects dolphin captivity”.
Mexico’s fantastic achievement for the welfare of dolphins reflects a promising global trend towards phasing out captivity. In May, France banned both the breeding and keeping of new dolphins and whales in captivity (a decision that was recently upheld). Environment Minister Segolene Royal decided to tighten these rules after finding out how just how badly some animals are treated in aquariums, and that many of them are drugged.
Across the pond, Senator Wilfred Moore sponsored the currently pending Bill S-203, which could put an end to the exploitation of captive dolphins and whales for human entertainment in Canada. And the Vancouver Park Board recently approved bylaw amendments officially banning Vancouver Aquarium from bringing in new cetaceans.
In California, Rep. Adam Schiff, announced the aptly named Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA) Act for the United States, which would phase out orca captivity by prohibiting their breeding, capture and import or export for the purposes of public display. PETA commended this decision, stating “the passage of this bill would mark the beginning of the end of that kind of marine prison in the US”.
Back in Australia, AFD was been in Sydney meeting with members of NSW Parliament all last week, asking them to support our bill to end dolphin captivity. The bill has been drafted, and plans are moving ahead to introduce it when enough support has been garnered. The recent decision in Mexico City adds extra weight to negotiations, serving to illustrate that Australia needs to act in order to keep up with global trends and public opinions on the issue.
We have also been busy searching for suitable locations to build Australia’s first sea-pen sanctuary. If dolphin captivity does end, we need to have a suitable location to rehouse these dolphins. A sea-pen facility will allow captive dolphins to be monitored and cared for by experts in a setting much closer to their natural habitat. They will be able to feel the current of the ocean, learn to catch and feed on live fish, and live out their lives in relative peace without the stress of performing circus shows, or being forced to participate in invasive swim-with sessions.
The future is finally looking a little brighter for dolphins and whales in captivity. Let’s hope the bold and compassionate decision to ban cetacean captivity in Mexico City sets an example for the rest of the country (which has over 300 captive dolphins) and for the rest of the world.