Tursiops truncatus | Loro Parque

The Lipsi project

Again and again, enemies of dolphinariums present alternatives for a dolphinariums: a bay pen or sea pen, which they then call euphemistically a “sanctuary”. Basic husbandry practices are more difficult and work well under expert managed care take Dolphin Research Center for example, but fail in other scenarios such as  with  Eilat.

Animal rights activists and aquatic pens

For animal rights activists, sea and bay pens are an viable alternative, but at the same time they demonize existing installations, which have built pens, but cooperate with other dolphinariums – like the Dolphin Research Center. If places are serious about animal and legally sound, then they must have emergency plans in place for natural catastrophes such as hurricanes or water pollution (ex. oil slicks).  Additionally there needs to be a plan for breeding, as it is a part of the animal’s biology. Each dolphinarium, which wants to build a marine habitat, thus a dolphinarium with an open water system, must therefore cooperate with dolphinariums or capture its stock from wild fauna. A facility with a general breeding ban will not be allowed in a EU country, because of the Zoos Directive.

Photo by Discovery Cove

Photo by Discovery Cove

The Location problem

So anti-dolphinarium activits are now planning their own dolphinarium on Lipsi, Greece, which they call a “dolphin sanctuary” or “refugium”. It is designed to to block  a bay with a net and take animals from European facilities. These are not a natural  part of their habitat. A project in Greece would be subject to the EU zoo directive, and must comply with and complete  certain tasks and responsibilities outlined by the directive. It would not be appropriate to prevent these animals  from breeding because goes against the biology of the animals and violates the EU zoo directive. If breeding is allowed, then how do you protect the genetic diversity and prevent interbreeding This “problem” can only solved in a cooperation with other dolphinariums.

The Lipsi problem

Lipsi is a Greek island with a surface area of ​​17,350 km², with about 800 inhabitants. There are almost daily ferry traffic and commercial water traffic in the summer months. Access to national air traffic is via the Kos and Samos airports, which can also be reached by ferry. From Kos it is about a 2 hours ferry ride and from Pythagorion (Samos) it is a 90 minutes. Infrastructurally, this is a nightmare! The water supply, which has capacity problems in sewage disposal, can cause some big problems. One must ask the question where is the waste water on an island derived?

In addition, the marine ecosystem is threatened: trawls are overfishing the existing fish population, because the minimum distance to the coast is often not met. As a result, many juvenile fishes die, and the swarms are thinned. Sea grass meadows have been destroyed and even a fish farm has ceased operations.

Under nature and species protection aspects, it is essential to take into account the fact that a possible entry of pathogens by cetaceans from dolphins can have devastating consequences, especially for the rare Mediterranean monstrosity, which is still a major issue in the eastern Aegean. One more thing that should make the approval of such an installation at this point impossible by means of careful testing.


Dolphins from Barcelona

The future of the dolphins in Barcelona is not decided at the moment. Activists hope they can get these dolphins. The EAZA, in this case represented by the studbookkeeper, would have to agree to this transport. In the present form, such permission to transport is not possible because, for the reasons stated, it would be contrary to the professional practice furthermore the time frame is too narrow.

The project itself

Archipelagos summarized the project in four points:

“Provide medical care to stranded marine species. The veterinary clinic will be prepared to care for and rehabilitate seals, turtles, and dolphins in need.”
Great idea. This is what is done by SeaWorld in the US or S.O.S. Dolfijn in the Netherlands for years. It costs a lot of money, which can not be found without the help of enormously financial sponsors and modern zoos.

“House dolphins who have been rescued from dolphinariums. There are already dolphins in Europe in temporary housing, waiting to find permanent homes.”
In this case, the above-mentioned problems apply with regard to the impossibility of a “no breeding” policy and the resulting offspring, their accommodation and care. This also costs a lot of money.

“Simulate the dolphins’ natural habitat. The dolphins will be free to learn how to hunt and behave as they did in the wild with no need to beg or do tricks for food.”
Rescued dolphins, who were only briefly in human care, have not forgotten to hunt. Dolphins with a long-term habitat are likely to play with the fish, but rather continue to be fed by their caregivers. However, such feeding of live fish in Europe is forbidden. As an Enrichment, there is a legal possibility for these purposes, but Archipelagos, wants to make the live feeding a principle and this is not possible. Furthermore it’s questionalble, if the are able to acquire such an amout of fish.
Moreover, in modern zoos the animals do not “beg” or have to perform the “tricks” for food. They get it without any tricks, which the animals also know.
In order to have a permit and to keep it, but of course for the sake of the animals, certain medical checks are necessary. If you do not want to stress the animals unnecessarily by catching and fixing them, you have to train them: so-called medical training.

“Be an educational facility that allows research without human interaction. At the edge of a bay on Lipsi Island in the eastern Aegean our research base sits, prepared to house the offices, simple living accommodations, and veterinary clinic.”
Research without human interaction can be done well in nature. In human care, whether in a refugium or a dolphinarium, it makes only sense to research topic you can’t do in the wild.


The Ric O’Barry problem

Ric O’Barry is Archipelagos partner. That’s the same Ric O’Barry, who was conviced for the unproper handling of the Sugarloaf Dolphins. What he did during the project was animal cruelty: he proved he’s not able to care for the animals properly, he’s not able to reintroduc dolphins in the wild properly and he’s not able to act in the animals’ best interest.

A zoo, which giving its animals to such a holder, should certainly be excluded from the community of scientifically managed and modern zoos, since with such a transfer every foundation has thrown this zoo-attitude overboard. 

Known and often failed

Such a project concept is well known. Again and again such projects appear on the screen and then disappear again. To put an orca, Keiko, only for a few years in a similar attitude and then  manage this husbandry, has cost a double-digit million amount and this project failed with a sad end for the animal. But we are not talking about the husbandry of only one orca, but we talk about a whole group of bottlenose dolphins, as well as the tasks of a rescue center – and that means a lot more workload and personnel requirements. Where is the investment for such a million graveyard?
It is not as if a non-commercial husbandry of the animals were not already tried – for example, from universities to education and research. All have failed through the lack of money, if they were not previously closed because of non-proper husbandry of the animals.


The project would only be feasible with an irresponsible damage to ecosystems, the over-boarding of animal welfare standards, and ultimately the breach of nature and species protection directives. Or this project will be like a European Dolphin Research Center cooperating with dolphinariums, partcipate in the breeding program and thus functions like any other dolphinarium of the EAZA. But then it is just not what it pretends to be, but exactly what dolphin opponents oppose against. However, it would be at least legal and compliant with nature, species and animal protection.

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