Nature studies: Stay away from the dolphins kept in tanks. The only ones to see live wild

It was all part of a zoological craze that swept the world at the end of the 1960s

Share

Sometimes features of our lives with which everyone is familiar can disappear so completely that the next generation has no idea they ever existed. So it is, thankfully, with the dolphinarium.

You need to be fifty or over to remember the time when every other British theme park or seaside resort seemed to have an aquarium that housed performing dolphins, with the peak year being 1972, when – believe it or not – there were no fewer than 36 of them operating in this country, from Brighton to Battersea Park in London, and from Knowsley Safari Park near Liverpool to Windsor Safari Park. Now they’ve all long since gone, every one of them; the last closed its doors in 1993.

It was all part of a zoological craze which swept the world at the end of the 1960s, following the international success of the US TV series Flipper, the story of a fictional bottlenose dolphin which was the wild pet of a marine park ranger in Florida. In a few short years, dolphinaria appeared in every major country, with wild dolphins and later orcas, or killer whales, being captured by the hundred so they could perform tricks for tourists in their concrete tanks.

Such is the delight that dolphins naturally spark in us, spectators were generally too enthralled at the sight of such wonderful creatures to think much about their welfare in captivity. But I remember in the mid-1980s looking at a dolphin in its tank at Windsor and thinking it was one of the two unhappiest animals I had ever seen (the other was a polar bear in its pit in London Zoo at about the same time, which was pacing up and down relentlessly and appeared to be going mad).

The Windsor dolphin was lying motionless in a narrow section of its tank, not much bigger than the animal itself. It suddenly dawned on me what this must feel like to a highly intelligent creature which in the open ocean may swim well over a hundred miles a day. From that moment I thought that keeping dolphins in captivity should be banned.

The reason the practice shrank and disappeared in Britain was that a Government review in the late 1980s laid down minimum tank sizes which would have cost the remaining dolphinaria substantial sums of money, and in the end they went out of business rather than spend it. Three cheers for that.

But at the weekend I came upon some telling research indicating that outside the UK there is still a flourishing business of keeping captive dolphins, porpoises and whales, collectively known as cetaceans. According to a new report from the wildlife charity Born Free and the travel company responsibletravel.com, more than 2,000 dolphins, 227 beluga whales, 52 killer whales, 17 false killer whales and 37 porpoises are currently being held in 343 captive facilities in 63 countries across the world.

The details were released to accompany a poll (with 2,050 respondents) which indicated that a majority of British tourists no longer wish to visit marine parks showing cetacean displays. When first asked, 61 per cent of respondents said they would avoid tourist attractions abroad showing whales and dolphins; when they were shown a short statement about the difference between conditions for the animals in the wild and conditions in captivity, and asked again, the number of those against a day out at a dolphinarium rose to 86 per cent.

Born Free’s president, Will Travers, said on the release of the poll that he hoped the days of the dolphinarium were over, and it was  time to bring the curtain down on the exploitation of whales and dolphins in captivity – just like the exploitation of wild animals in travelling circuses.

I couldn’t agree more, especially as the alternative – whale and dolphin-watching in the wild – is infinitely more attractive.

The last time a survey was done, in 2009, 13 million people were found to have travelled in search of wild whales (and the number has almost certainly shot up since then). I was one of them, with my children, and I have to say that close encounters with cetaceans at sea have made up some of our most unforgettable holiday experiences.

So if you want to see dolphins this  summer, get on a boat. It’s vastly preferable  to watching these magnificent creatures  do tricks in a concrete tank.

But at least, in Britain today, that is merely a memory.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?