19 February is the World Day of Sea Mammals Protection. Ukraine has also habitats of mammals. There are three types of cetaceans in Ukrainian territorial waters – bottlenose dolphins, porpoises and azov dolphins. All of them are on the Red Species List of Ukraine and International agreement on the conservation of cetaceans.1 But are these types of dolphins properly protected in Ukraine?
Bottlenose dolphins are captured and actively exploited in dolphinariums. As of 2014, there were 20 dolphinariums in Ukraine. At the end of 2015, a new dolphinarium was opened in the resort town of Truskavets. Such institutions have shows with dolphins, fur seals, and other animals as well as propose rehabilitation procedures. However, many of these services and activities in dolphinariums are full of myths that help businesses to make profit and even flourish by exploiting animals.
The myth most attractive for people is about dolphin-assisted therapy that is considered to be a type of unconventional psychological therapy for such diseases as autism, Down’s syndrome, dyslexia etc. Dolphin-assisted therapy was started back in 1970 when the doctor Betsy Smith held an experiment of communication between dolphins and children autists. But after more than 25 years of experiments doctor Smith made a conclusion that dolphin-assisted therapy is not effective and is just an exploitation of animals by business2. There is no proof that communication with dolphins is better than communication with any other animal and no proof of success of dolphin-assisted therapy in general. Similar proof of doctors and scientists of ineffectiveness of dolphin-assisted therapy are collected in the publication by Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society3.
Another myth is that “conditions of dolphin captivity in entertainment companies fully comply with their natural needs”. According to the Law of Ukraine “On animal protection from cruel treatment”, conditions of dolphin captivity should satisfy their natural needs in food, water, sleep, movement, communication with other dolphins and in natural activeness. Dolphinariums should use natural sea water. The place for dolphin captivity should be equipped in the way to ensure necessary space, temperature, humidity, natural lightning, ventilation and possibility for animals contact with their natural environment. Detailed requirements for dolphin captivity conditions, water-pool size, requirements regarding food, timing of trainings and shows, transportation conditions can be found in the Rules and norms of dolphin captivity approved by the Ordinance of the Ministry of Environment of Ukraine # 622, edition of 20.11.2015.
However, in reality these legal norms are not observed:
- natural sea water is not used even in dolphinariums located near the Black and Azov seas;
- dolphins are kept in too small water-pools;
- captivity conditions to not comply with natural needs of dolphins: in natural environment dolphins swim 100-160 km and dive 200 m deep, they are free in their choice of food and in relationship with other species, which is impossible in dolphinariums;
- trainers use the training system based on insufficient feeding of dolphins, food is used as stimulus for participation in shows, which is an example of cruel treatment of animals;
- basic sanitary norms of dolphin captivity are violated in dolphinariums. During cold seasons visitors watch shows and take photos with dolphins in outer garment and shoes thus causing pollution of dolphin water-pools. Also, during plays when a ball is thrown from dolphins to visitors, many people with dirty hands touch the ball that gets back to the pool with dolphins;
- when taking photos, people touch dolphins with dirty hands, no medical certificate is requested from people who swim with dolphins in the pool, people hug and kiss dolphins, in this way spreading infections. Some human diseases, particularly respiratory and skin diseases, are very dangerous for dolphins;
- inspection of the dolphinarium revealed that it does not have permits for keeping wild animals in captivity, for breeding Ukrainian Red List species in captivity, for organizing events that involve animals.
Besides violations of the legislation, there are other factors that have adverse impact on dolphins’ health:
- high level of noise (90-60 KHz) and lighting effects during shows make dolphins stressed;
- some stunts that are performed using dolphins can be harmful to health of dolphins and cause serious discomfort to them: the stunt of standing on dolphin’s rostrum may be harmul for it; the stunt when “the trainer” stands on that part of dolphin’s body where the breathing hole is located may cause breathing disorders. When a trainer makes a stunt holding the swimming dolphin by its spinal fin, this may harm gristly tissues of the fin;
- chlorinating of water where dolphins are kept can cause eyes and skin irritation. After some time dolphin skin is gradually decolored, exfoliated and big white stains appear. Dolphins suffer from eye diseases because of harmed thin protective cover on the eye cornea. In case of very high concentrations of chlorine, eye burning is possible. Blue coloring of pools causes exceeding lighting which in combination with open sun lighting causes eye diseases – cataract, cornea diseases. Also, dolphins were diagnosed with inflammation of the areas around blowhole, inflammation of breathing ways, bronchitis.
Another myth is that “swimming in a pool with dolphins is safe”. The above mentioned diseases developed by dolphins can be easily transmitted to visitors of dolphinariums when they swim in pools or contact with dolphins.
Moreover, creation of new dolphinariums is often claimed to be for the purpose of people healing and nature protecting. However, in fact captivity of dolphins by no means contributes to their conservation because in captivity dolphins live 3-5 times less than in open sea and often lose their reproductive function.
Every hour 3 species on the Earth disappear. Ukraine fails to comply with its obligation to protect rare animal species including dolphins and nobody bears responsibility for this. A vivid proof of this is not only existence of dolphinariums but also opening of new ones. Dolphins may become another extinct species of Ukraine.
On this day we call for refusing from visiting dolphinariums, telling your friends and relatives about this problem and joining public campaign against commercial use of dolphins in Ukraine.
Head of Youth department of the National Environmental Center of Ukraine
Natalia Kuts, EPL lawyer
(032) 225 76 82