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The Debate concerning the Protection of Cetaceans: Collaboration for a Common Cause?

There is an active debate in society about keeping cetaceans in zoos. A vocal minority backed by some politicians opposes cetaceans in zoos. A rigorous debate is required, taking into account scientific evidence and avoiding biased statements that are not supported by what we have learned about these animals over many years.

Millions of people continue to visit zoos every year to encounter these fascinating animals. While the common view is that animals must not be kept for the purposes of pure entertainment, the vast majority of zoos have long ago replaced animal performances with educational presentations designed to inspire the public to protect biodiversity. Many also transformed shows into encounters with animals that are fully devoted to raising public awareness and changing attitudes and behavior. Equally, the health and welfare needs of every animal must be fully met. Governmental licensing under the Zoos Directive as well as association accreditation and third-party certification systems must ensure that this is the case. Any facility that fails to meet societal expectations for modern zoos should be closed.

We know we are in the midst of a Sixth Extinction caused by human beings. Efforts to achieve international, European and national targets and timetables to address the crisis are falling short. More than 500,000 dolphins and other cetaceans are dying in the wild each year. As the International Union for the Conservation of Nature recently warned, conservation work in the wild (“in situ conservation”) is not enough to stop the threats to and extinction of dolphins and porpoises: the expertise and facilities of zoos and other managed care systems will be critical for success (“ex situ conservation”). Public-private partnerships urgently are required to save the most critically endangered species and to accelerate progress toward protecting ocean life from land-based pollution through targeted public awareness campaigns.

Never have zoos and aquariums been so needed; never have a few anti-zoo organizations worked so hard to destroy them. Visited by millions of people each year, zoos accredited by the European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM) connect people with charismatic ocean ambassadors including seals, sea lions, dolphins, walruses, polar bears, manatees, killer whales, turtles, sharks, fish and other marine life. The possibility to experience these animals in close proximity creates valuable educational opportunities and has been proven to spark more conservation-minded behaviour.

This document provides policy makers, journalists, students and all citizens interested in the role of modern zoos and the place of cetaceans in zoos with information relevant to the debate.

The EAAM wishes to acknowledge and thank Dr. Javier Almunia, Director of the Loro Parque Foundation, for the “Encyclopedia of Anti-Captivity Arguments: Debunking the Myths used against Zoos and Aquariums”, upon which this document is based. As Dr. Almunia correctly observes, “If we didn’t have zoos today, we would have to invent them.”


EAAM - El debate (ES)
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EAAM - Le Debat (FR)
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