A campaign by a coalition of marine mammal scientists and animal protection NGOs has successfully halted the filming of a new reality TV show, „Dolphins with the Stars” in Portugal.

The show, which tasks celebrities to train individual captive dolphins to perform choreographed routines and tricks before live audiences, has angered the Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition that works tirelessly to end the exploitation of dolphins and whales in captivity. Already broadcast in Lithuania and currently being filmed for broadcast in Portugal, the TV programme concept of „Dolphins with the Stars” has reportedly been sold across Europe.

Margaux Dodds, spokesperson for the Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition explained, “It is deeply concerning to find that dolphins would be used in a TV reality show.  There are regulations in place relating to the welfare of captive animals and in this case we sincerely believe that both national laws and regulations laid out by the captivity industry themselves were contravened on this occasion. Dolphinaria-Free Europe immediately approached the relevant authorities voicing our concern about Zoomarine allowing this show to be filmed at the facility, and we are delighted with news received that the Portuguese broadcasters SIC have taken the decision to suspend this show pending further investigations.”

The Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition will continue to monitor the situation and act in the interests of the captive dolphins should Portugal, or another Europe country choose to broadcast „Dolphins with the Stars”.

Editor’s Notes
Our investigations have revealed that filming of the TV show, ‘Dolphins With the Stars’ had begun on 2nd May, with the first broadcast on 20th June 2015 on the Portuguese SIC TV, Channel 3.  The Programme is produced by Shine Iberia (Head of Shine Iberia, Rui Àvila rui.avila@shineiberia.tv)  and was to be broadcast by SIC Portugal (Broadcast and Programming Management Director, Luis Proença (luisproenca@sic.pt). All programmes were to be filmed at ZooMarine in Guia (Algarve) using a number of their bottlenose dolphins.
Yesterday SIC reported that they had suspended the film following concerns raised by the Portuguese Government.


Restrictive space:
The largest captive facilities are just a fraction of the size of the natural home ranges of whales, dolphins and porpoises (commonly referred to as cetaceans) (Tyack, 2009). Orcas, for example, may travel as far as 150 kilometres in a day. When denied adequate space, large, wide-ranging carnivores commonly develop problems such as abnormal repetitive behaviour (termed stereotypies) and aggression (Clubb & Mason, 2003).

Limited social environment: Captive dolphins sharing a pool are often unrelated, from different geographic regions or from different species, which can result in changes to natural group dynamics leading to dominance-related aggression, injuries, illness and even death (Waples & Gales, 2002). In the wild, a majority of cetacean species live in interrelated family groups, or pods. These highly intelligent, social species can be found in aggregations of 100 or more animals.

Environmental quality and complexity: Captive facilities cannot provide an environment that simulates the complex natural marine environment. Most pools are smooth-sided, small and virtually empty of stimuli (Couquiaud, 2005).

Noise: Loud music and the regular, repetitive noise of pumps and filters are thought to cause significant stress to captive cetaceans, who are highly dependent on their sense of hearing (Couquiaud, 2005). Captive dolphins spend much of the time with their heads at the water’s surface or out of the water; therefore, they are subjected to prolonged, loud sounds, which can result in physiological stress and damage (Wright et al, 2007). There is no scientific, published data to suggest that the welfare of captive dolphins is not compromised by exposure to loud music in-air.

Behavioural restrictions: Training and performance in shows may provide some stimulation for captive cetaceans, but these behaviours are conditioned and are usually exaggerated or altered versions of natural behaviour (WDCS et al., 2011). Conditioned behaviour observed in captivity include “tail-walking”, the balancing of balls, spinning of hoops, trainers being pushed and pulled through the water and trainers seen riding on the backs of dolphins – these are not natural behaviours.

Use of tranquillizers: Diazepam (Valium® and generics) is used by the captive dolphin industry to control stereotypies and anxiety, recognised as common problems in dolphinaria (Knight, 2013).

Stress: Handling, restraint, confinement, transport, isolation or crowding and an artificial diet lead to stress in captive cetaceans and, ultimately, a reduction in their life expectancy (WDCS et al., 2011).

Early mortality:  Captive bottlenose dolphins may live as long as wild dolphins in the best facilities, but their annual mortality rates are still slightly higher (5.6% vs 3.9%, although this difference is not statistically significant) and in many facilities around the world, significantly higher, as poor quality housing and care contribute to ill health (Small & DeMaster, 1995; Woodley, 1997); captive orcas show reduced survivorship compared to wild orcas and live shorter lives (Small & DeMaster, 1995; Jett & Ventre, 2015). Beluga whales appear to live about half as long in captivity as they do in the wild (Stewart et al., 2006).