Open letter to the Vancouver Parks Board and citizens of Vancouver

Open letter to the Vancouver Parks Board
and citizens of Vancouver

On March 9th the Park Board voted to ban the display of whales, dolphins and porpoises at the Vancouver Aquarium. According to the commissioners, they voted according to “public will”. We, the members of the European Association for Aquatic Mammals, respect this decision, but would like to draw attention to the impact this will have on the conservation of marine mammals and the ethical inconsistency of following a public will that contradicts other aspects of society’s common goals.

Zoos and aquariums do such research which addresses the following questions: How does a species or an individual of a species experience life and how can we take care of each species and individual in a way that meets their needs and leads to their well being under our care?

We, as representatives of zoos and aquariums, affirm that we are responsible for the well-being of the animals in our care. We affirm that we must respect and fulfill the needs of the animals in our institutions. We have instigated the dramatic changes that our members have undergone in the last decades from the purely commercial exploitation of marine mammals for the entertainment of our visitors to establishing environmental institutions that keep animals for the sake of conservation. Our mission is to inspire our visitors, investigate the psychological and ecological needs of our animals and help establish methods to conserve, keep and breed them.

The work of accredited zoos and aquariums reflects another movement in Western society: the fight for the conservation of biodiversity. The ethical basis of our work is that humans are responsible for the future of the planet, especially its living inhabitants and habitats. Humans are the only species in the world able to take responsibility for other species and as such are obliged to make decisions directly involved in the lives of other living beings.

Since the 1970’s it has become apparent that the planet faces a rapid and dramatic loss of species. According to Red List of Threatened Species from The International Union for Conservation of Nature, mammals with a body

weight of more than one kilogram face extinction worldwide. In many cases the protection of threatened species in the field is still possible, but there are more and more instances where survival in the wild is unlikely. In such cases the capture of the last individuals may save the species.

The success of human intervention is shown with the Californian Condor. The last 27 wild birds were caught in 1987. They were bred in aviaries and have been slowly released since 1992; the species is currently out of danger with numbers around 600.

The world missed the opportunity to save the “Baiji” Chinese river dolphin when there were only 19 individuals left. The Baiji is the first dolphin species that we let die out “with dignity” because humans did not take responsibility and capture the last known individuals to breed for future release. The Baiji has been functionally extinct since 2007.

Vancouver Aquarium is being forced to close its doors to whales and dolphins at a time when a second dolphin species is facing extinction. The Vaquita porpoise species has fewer than 70 individuals; there is no longer hope that the species will survive in the wild. It is now up to humans to decide whether to make a final attempt to save the species by capturing the last individuals, caring for them with the help of professional marine parks, and trying to breed them until Baja California has reached an ecological state that can once again guarantee their survival.

Breeding critically endangered species is only possible when there are places where the animals can be kept and where professionals know how to fulfill their biological and psychological needs. Keeping whales and dolphins is a biological, technical and financial challenge and there are only a few institutions remaining that are able to keep marine mammals in accordance with animal welfare’s best practice guidelines.

Vancouver Aquarium and other marine mammal parks that are dedicated to conservation and animal welfare have an increasing impact on the protection of marine mammals. Having wild animals survive, breed and thrive in human care requires highly specialized professional expertise. It is a scientific undertaking and the knowledge acquired can make contributions far beyond the zoo and aquarium world. All of the veterinary care proficiency for stranded dolphins comes from the veterinary care of dolphins in marine mammal parks.

The list of endangered dolphins and whales will only grow. Over-fishing and pollution of the oceans have turned habitats into deadly traps for many species. Zoological parks and aquariums can’t save aquatic habitats, but they may help save some species and many stranded individuals. This is only possible if they have the professional experience and expertise that comes from keeping animals.

With the Parks Board’s decision, there is now another blank spot on the map of potential rescue centers for the whales and dolphins of the world. Who will now take over responsibility and care for animal species at the brink of extinction or for individual animals facing human-caused death on our beaches?

The philosophical approaches of animal rights and of human responsibility meet in the scientific field of animal welfare. But they diverge in the field of conservation. We do not agree that animals should go extinct “with dignity” rather than be kept in human care.

We, the official representatives of the European Association for Aquatic Mammals are deeply concerned about and saddened by the Park Board’s decision.

Arlete Sogorb – Past President

Brad Andrews – President

Javier Almunia – Incoming President

Statement on sea pens and sanctuaries

The European Association of Aquatic Mammals supports the development of sea pens in Europe for the purpose of rescue and rehabilitation of stranded or ill marine mammals living in the wild where transport, accommodation, and care can be delivered in accordance with best professional practices and in compliance with all laws governing the welfare of marine mammals kept in human care.


Explanatory note:

Increasingly, critics of zoological parks suggest the creation of sea pens or sea cages, i.e., fenced enclosures in open oceans or seas, to hold marine mammals. Typically publicized as proposals for “sanctuaries” to paint a more appealing public image, sea pen proponents seek to provide space for rehabilitation of rescued animals and/or the relocation of zoo animals. There are no sea pens in Europe today, however, certain organizations are publicizing their ideas and proposals to build sea pens in various Member States.

The establishment of additional facilities for the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals in Europe is most welcome. The mission of zoological parks includes rescue and rehabilitation of stranded and ill marine mammals and every effort is made to assist animals in distress. Reintroduction is the end goal of every program for all animals that are deemed – preferably by governments – to be releasable. Zoological parks routinely respond to calls by citizens and governments to provide emergency response for sick or compromised marine mammals. When mass stranding, or natural or manmade disasters occur, however, additional space beyond what zoological parks have available or can improvise, may be necessary.

Some suggest that sea pens also may be used as a stepping stone to release cetaceans currently in zoological parks into the wild. Even critics of zoological parks agree that dolphins and whales born and/or kept in human care for public exhibition and education are not likely to survive if released into the wild. When marine mammals are rescued and rehabilitated by zoological parks, great care is taken to restrict human-animal interaction to the greatest extent possible to preserve the possibility of reintroduction of animals whose health is restored.



Great care must be taken to plan, create, and operate any sea pen that may be constructed for rescued marine mammals. Sea pens can expose marine mammals to risks of illness and/or disease from toxins and other pollutants in the ocean, as well as viruses. Storms, strong currents and other weather-related phenomena and underwater noise beyond the control of facility operators also can endanger or disturb animals in sea pens. Where sea pens are used for marine mammals, emergency contingency plans must be available, including the possibility for appropriate transport, relocation, and long-term care in a safe inland facility within hours of detecting significant threats to the health and welfare of the animals.

Whether called zoos, parks, sea pens or sanctuaries, all facilities that hold marine mammals must be managed in accordance with best professional practices as reflected in standards and guidelines adopted by experienced professional marine mammal organizations such as the EAAM. All marine mammals should be transported, accommodated and cared for in accordance with laws and regulations applicable to non-domesticated animals in human care. Where sea pens are proposed or used for the purpose of public display of marine mammals in the European Union, all additional legal requirements for education, research and conservation should be satisfied in accordance with the EU Zoos Directive.

Statement on the Japanese Drive Fisheries

2007 (Rev. Dec. 2013)

Statement [1]                                                                                                                    

The European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM) condemns the inhumane killing and/or associated taking of dolphins in drive fisheries such as those that take place in Taiji.  There is no dolphin from the Japanese drive fisheries in any EAAM member park today.  Previous intervention by zoological parks to rescue animals already doomed to die as a result of the fisheries was ceased more than a decade ago to avoid any possible misinterpretation of support or encouragement for the fisheries.

The majority of the dolphins in EAAM member parks were born in human care.  Breeding, together with high quality animal care and modern facilities, has resulted in a net increase in dolphins in recent years, meaning that the population in parks in the European Union is sustainable.



Zoological parks that acquire any animal from drive fisheries such as Taiji or individuals who participate in such drive fisheries shall not be eligible for EAAM membership.


[1] The EAAM issued its first statement condemning the drive fisheries in 2007.  This document reiterates and confirms EAAM’s continuing opposition to the drive fisheries and clarifies its policy relative to membership.