New Report: Captive marine mammals traded and exploited for tourist entertainment

Press release

ITB Berlin – 08 March - Thousands of marine mammals like dolphins and small whales are living in captivity around the world, with more captured from the wild and sold into captivity each year or bred-for public display at tourist attractions

The fifth edition of The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity, released today at the ITB conference in Berlin, provides robust scientific evidence and ethical arguments, into the behind-the-scenes realities of zoos, aquariums and marine theme parks.  

The popular hotspots where marine mammals are captured include Russia (belugas and orcas) and Japan (multiple dolphin species) with the principal market being China, where shockingly the number of ocean theme parks has jumped from 39 in 2015 to 76 in early 2019. 

These venues cause immense suffering at every stage of the animal’s life - from capture, through to transportation which leads to a lifelong existence in small barren tanks, posing severe stress for marine mammals. Even if born in captivity and not wild-caught, the main concern for marine mammals such as dolphins is the artificial and barren nature of the captive environment. 

Nick Stewart, Global Head of Campaign on captive wildlife tourism at World Animal Protection says, “A lifetime in captivity for marine mammals such as dolphins is so contrary to their natural environment - it is simply no life at all. 

“Tourists and the global travel industry provide demand for existing and new captive marine mammal facilities, which is why we have chosen to launch the report at one of the world’s biggest travel shows. The arguments and evidence of suffering is here in black and white for travel companies to see.” 

Dr. Naomi Rose, the report’s lead author and AWI’s marine mammal scientist says: 

“Marine mammals simply cannot thrive in captivity. Almost all marine mammal species are wide-ranging predators and the best we can provide for them are barren concrete boxes or small sea pen corrals.” 

First produced in 1995, this updated report is especially timely in light of the recent announcement by Dolphinaris Arizona to close its dolphin exhibit after four dolphins died there in less than 18 months. Since the publication of the last edition in 2009, the controversy over captive marine mammals has intensified, largely due to high-profile documentaries such as “The Cove” and “Blackfish,” ensuring that every new proposal to build a dolphinarium or marine theme park with captive animals anywhere in the world will receive increased scrutiny and skepticism. 

Other highlights from the report: 

While a shift is well underway in the West, with many countries prohibiting the display or breeding of cetaceans for entertainment or banning and restricting the trade in live cetaceans, live capture of free-ranging marine mammals, particularly cetaceans, continues  

Dolphin sea pen enclosures in Asia and the Caribbean are considered to be at extreme risk from hurricanes and tsunamis. Their construction also degrades coastal habitat, destroying mangroves and damaging coral reefs. Several facilities were destroyed in the 2017 hurricane season in the Caribbean 

The inadequate conditions of captive marine mammals have adverse impacts on their welfare. Most marine mammals are wide-ranging predators—confinement in small tanks or pens leads to stress, which, in turn, leads to a number of health problems, neurotic behaviors and abnormal levels of aggression 

Bottlenose dolphins are six times more likely to die immediately after capture from the wild and transfer between facilities. Annual mortality rates for orcas have improved over the years, but they still don’t match healthy populations in the wild 

Concern about swimmer safety and dolphin welfare has led several tourism companies, including TripAdvisor and Virgin Holidays, to end or restrict their promotion of swim-with dolphin attractions.  


Notes to editors

For more information or to interview an expert, please contact

The main concern for marine mammals in captivity is the artificial and barren nature of the environment, particularly the amount of space provided. In the wild, cetaceans can travel 40-100 miles a day, achieve speeds of 30 miles per hour, and dive hundreds of feet deep. Even in the largest facilities, cetaceans are provided less than 0.0001% (one millionth) of their natural habitat range. One 2014 study found that a captive male orca spent nearly 70% of his time virtually motionless. Yet global standards for captive enclosure size have not been revised or improved. 

The Animal Welfare Institute ( is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere – in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.  

World Animal Protection (formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals) has moved the world to protect animals for the last 50 years. World Animal Protection works to give animals a better life. Its activities include working with companies to ensure high standards of welfare for the animals in their care, working with governments and other stakeholders to prevent wild animals being cruelly traded, trapped or killed, and saving the lives of animals and the livelihoods of the people who depend on them in disaster situations. World Animal Protection influences decision makers to put animals on the global agenda, and it inspires people to protect animals and to change animals’ lives for the better. More information on World Animal Protection can be found at:  

Nick Stewart, Global Head of Campaign on captive wildlife tourism at World Animal Protection says, “A lifetime in captivity for marine mammals such as dolphins is so contrary to their natural environment - it is simply no life at all. “Tourists and the global travel industry provide demand for existing and new captive marine mammal facilities, which is why we have chosen to launch the report at one of the world’s biggest travel shows. The arguments and evidence of suffering is here in black