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Welfare of cetaceans in captivity

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Ratification Date: 01 Jan 2010

Policy

Cetaceans should not be kept in captivity unless it can be demonstrated that their husbandry, welfare and health requirements can be met.

Background

The welfare of captive cetaceans is part of the broader issue of the welfare of captive mammals generally.

Cetaceans (such as whales and dolphins) in zoological marine parks provides a useful focus of contact for Australian people. The opportunity to observe cetacean behaviour contributes to community education and the development of positive attitudes towards wildlife. Captive cetaceans are also used in behavioural and biological research.

Keeping cetaceans in captivity is substantially more challenging than keeping many terrestrial mammals because of the challenge of maintaining an adequate marine environment. Although this policy refers to all cetaceans, it is really only bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops spp.) that have proven suitable for captivity. Nearly all other species are much more difficult and their keeping has been associated with high mortality rates. It is also important to understand that dolphins are highly social and have a hierarchical social structure.

Welfare issues that must be addressed when keeping cetaceans in captivity include the animals’ need for adequate space, exercise, socialisation and an appropriate environment. Adequate husbandry and facility design must accommodate the correct balance of age and sex classes and allow for escape/separation for individuals when managing agonistic social interactions.

Finally, a developing issue is that of holding animals for rehabilitation and release. One significant issue for consideration in this situation is that of disease transmission when releasing rehabilitated animals back into wild populations.

Guidelines

It is the responsibility of each marine park proprietor to ensure the welfare of captive animals.

Any facility keeping cetaceans in captivity must conform to the legislative requirements and exhibit standards for those species.

A veterinarian, experienced with cetaceans, should be retained on contract to monitor the health and welfare of the animals in each marine park.

Other recommendations

The AVA supports the operation of marine parks that meet the standards laid down by the Australian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA).

Where possible, state legislation relating to the welfare of marine mammals should be aligned to a uniform national standard.

Other relevant policies and position statements

Zoos, aquaria, sanctuaries and animal parks

Date of ratification by AVA Board January 2010