In 2013, a documentary called “Blackfish” turned the sea-park industry upside down. The public backlash from that documentary caused both attendance and stock prices to fall dramatically for the ocean-themed park SeaWorld. In fact, in 2015 SeaWorld announced it would end their once-popular orca show at their park in San Diego, CA due to the lasting impact of Blackfish.
Animals rights activists that condemn sea-parks argue that the cetaceans commonly known as orcas, whales, and porpoises are such intelligent animals that cover so much territory in the wild, that they are not suited for captivity. They believe the stress of captivity leads to short, miserable lives for these beautiful animals. They also believe the stress from captivity is what made the orca, Tillikum, attack and kill its trainer in 2010.
While the backlash from the documentary was well-known and often written about in the United States, the effects on the sea-park industry in Europe were less talked about. But, a recent decision by France revealed the impact was also felt there.
In May, France passed legislation that bans captive whale and dolphin breeding there. What this means is that the whales and dolphins currently in captivity in France will be the last. Animal rights activists cheered the legislation, but continued to protest the parks that choose to keep the animals in captivity.
But, the legislation did much more than just ban orca, whale and dolphin breeding. After the Environmental Minister, whose job it is to sign the legislation into law, found out that some sea-parks were drugging the animals, he decided to go a step further and ban keeping all porpoises, whales and dolphins in captivity except for those that were currently in official aquariums.
France’s new law also bans sea-parks from allowing attendees to pet and swim with dolphins. Aquariums will also have to increase the size of the cetaceans’ holding tanks at least 150 percent so that the animals will not only have more room to swim, but it will keep the public and other animals farther from them.
Currently, France has one of only two sea-parks in Europe that keep orcas in captivity. Four orcas reside in Marineland in Antibes. Marineland also has 13 bottlenose dolphins that guests are allowed to swim with, which is a popular attraction for the sea-park. The passing of the new legislation means, of course, that Marineland will feel a huge impact. Management at Marineland described the law as a “bombshell” for the park. The four dolphinariums in France will also feel the effects of the law.
Aquariums and sea-parks have six months to comply with the stipulations of the legislation, but have as long as three years to expand the holding tanks that the animals call home.
Even though some research suggests that cetaceans are no more stressed in captivity than they are in the wild, the new law will, at the very least, provide improved and more humane living quarters for the beloved sea mammals still in captivity there.
Bien fait, la France!