NO DOLPHINARIA IN EUROPE : DEMO REPORT
European demonstration against dolphinaria occured in Brussels on June 28th 2013
The event is historic. About 350 friends of the dolphins gathered this Friday 28th of June in Brussels, in front of the federal public service of Public Health, to demand the total ban of dolphinaria all across Europe.
Lead by the artist Maria Heidemann (on stilts), they demanded in several languages a radical change in the EC Directive 1999/22 (Council of Europe), for it to ban permanently dolphinaria – just like India did, but also Chile, Brazil, Slovenia, Cyprus and Croatia.
While demonstrators continued to chant their slogans in front of the building, Ric O’Barry, former trainer of Flipper and lead actor of the documentary « The Cove,« , Annelies Mullens, co-organizer of the demonstration (who came with her youngest son), and Yvon Godefroid, activist responsible for the event, met Dr Eric Dr Van Tilburgh, Head of the Animal Welfare division of the federal public service.
Ric is joking inside the Ministry. Yvon tries not to laugh.
Willem, the youngest son of Annelies, is quite proud to be there !
The dialogue was cordial, though firm and uncompromising, and lasted about an hour. The focus was put almost straight away on several illegal practices of the Boudewijn Seapark. These practices are mentioned in 2 reports of the highest scientific rigor, namely the « Born Free » report on Belgian zoos and the WDCS Europe Dolphinaria Report. You can also find a summary of those in French with pictures on this page.
Dr Van Tilburgh was also strongly reminded that the Boudewijn Seapark operates currently without any license.
The license hasn’t been renewed. Why does the government not react to this situation? Will this license eventually be renewed? Is there no risk in terms of insurance? Many people living near the park have been complaining about the noise during the Sunday shows. We can then easily imagine the dolphins’ suffering, especially knowing their hearing is extremely sensitive.
Amongst the park’s attractions that are causing problems on a strictly legal point of view, let’s talk about the direct contact with the animals, which is forbidden in every Belgian zoo. However, Boudewijn Seapark allows you, for quite a substantial amount of money, to « meet » dolphins. During these activities, people are allowed to go into the water and touch the dolphins. That might be entertaining, but it is also quite risky : brucellosis and herpes can occur, and there is also a risk of aggression. It happened recently in the United States, where a little girl got savagely bitten by a dolphin…
Even more dangerous and illegal are the (paying) photo sessions with sea lions of Patagonia, whose enormous mouth could tear off a child’s face in one bite. Vultures and other birds of prey landing on kids’ nape were also mentioned, birds that are here attached by a leash and subject to unacceptable conditions of life. Conditions that some zoos, for example in the United Kingdom, do not tolerate anymore…
We then reminded Mr Van Tilburgh the park’s numerous breaches on its European obligations.
These breaches include the lack of relevant information about the social life of free dolphins ; the anthropomorphic nature of the shows ; the predictable failure of breeding programs in captivity ; the very low viability of captive cetaceans ; the numerous foolish attempts to have a self-sufficient herd of « pet dolphins » (so fresh blood coming from the ocean wouldn’t be needed) ; the unability to put back into the wild young dolphins born in captivity, even though one of the zoo’s missions is to repopulate the endangered habitats ; and the obsolete and repetitive nature of researches that do not care at all about the species (studying the pregnancy of captive dolphins for example, or studying the so-called healing power of the dolphins)…
In short, as highlighted in the 2011 report of the WDCS, keeping dolphins in captivity already violates the EC Directive 1999/22 and the national laws that are linked to it.
° Captivity is supposed to encourage the conservation of endangered species. However, the survival rate of cetaceans in captivity is lower, and so is the birth rate.
° It is supposed to promote education about cetaceans, but very little information is given during those shows about the complex social life of dolphins.
° It is supposed to prevent cruelty towards animals and support their welfare, but stress and abnormal behaviors have been observed amongst the captive dolphins of 15 countries of the EU – countries that have proven to be unable to enforce the existing legislation.
Ric O’Barry also reminded Mr Van Tilburgh that, if reptiles in zoos could at least enjoy a branch to climb, or a shelter, basically something that remind them of their natural environment, the situation is totally different for the dolphins. They are forced to live in an empty concrete pool. Can we imagine a chimpanzee or a gorilla in an empty cell ?
To conclude, we have asked the government to make an ethically courageous decision, and to prohibit from now on all breeding programs in captivity, all import of new dolphins, all opening of new dolphinaria, and that, gradually, an end can be put to all the activities of the Boudewijn Seapark.
More globally, Ric O’Barry insisted that Belgium, seat of most of the European institutions, had the chance now to lead by example in front of the 15 countries that still have aquatic circuses in the EU.
Mr Van Tilburgh has committed to convey our requests to the Minister in charge, Ms Laurette Onkelinx, reminding us also that a special commission would soon communicate its conclusions about the standards of the Boudewijn Seapark dolphinarium. Our answer to that was that, no matter what the conclusions are, the voice of the Belgian citizens would prevail. No prison can be improved to the point of making it better for the cetaceans to be captive than to be free.
It is obvious that, in the wake of this first European event, other actions will take place in Belgium, but also in other European cities. And, concerning the petition « All dolphinaria must be closed in Europe« , even if its value is symbolic, it has to keep being shared and signed !
It is a tough fight, because we are dealing with a huge leisure industry, that has important financial resources, and that is able to influence anyone. But it is a fair fight, not only for dolphins, but also for the future of our children, for the future of humanity. Our dignity as human beings is at stake in this fight. And we will win it !
We wish to thank (knowing that it’s impossible to thank everyone) :
First, Ric O’Barry of course, and Annelies Mullens
The Dolphin Connection
Hester Bartels (Orka Coalitie)
Mylou for her pictures of Bruges and her unwavering support
Denis and the others for the security aspects
The local police for their efficiency & their kindness
All of you, who helped from their own countries, sending messages and tweet-stream, or came from far just, full of love for dolphins !
See you next year !!
Images and videos
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