Monday 14 March 2016 | 0

Harderwijk: the shock and the suffering

Dutch TV has gone backstage with hidden cameras to capture footage of the Harderwijk dolphinarium. The terrible information revealed in this footage questions how the existence of dolphinariums can even be justified.

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The programme "Rambam" wanted to prove in this documentary that the dolphinarium is " an environment where people sit in a half circle on benches watching wild animals turning circles in return for food", otherwise said, a circus and not a zoo. In Holland exhibiting wild animals is banned in circuses.

The film shows us the circus shows and the absence of the 'educational value' of the dolphinarium. It shows us fourteen male dolphins shut in tiny pools at the back of the main building. Far from benefiting from the prestigious seawater lagoon of the dolphinarium, they are languishing in boredom and fighting between themselves whilst waiting for the next show.

One of the scenes shown was extremely shocking, when a trainer masturbates one of the captive males who lacks female companions. " It's to relieve him," explains the man, "and to keep him ready for sperm extractions". This type of procedure is practised in all the marine parks that practice artificial insemination. "The masturbation is repeated every day, from a very young age, in the form of a reward game", explains Professor Thierry Jauniaux, veterinarian of the University of Liege in charge of dolphinarium autopsies.

We could therefore understand the importance of this training method for a 'dolphin farm' like the Harderwijk dolphinarium. Since the 1960's, this establishment has effectively provided European dolphinariums with cetaceans born in captivity. The dolphinarium positions itself as the European reference for all that concerns breeding and training of show dolphins. In the past, it has also collaborated with SeaWorld to capture wild cetaceans in the USA, Iceland and Japan. More recently, it 'saved' the orca Morgan in the Wadden Sea before transporting her to a zoo in Tenerife controlled by SeaWorld.

The marine parks are without doubt circuses and not zoos. All of them inflict a life of confinement and frustration on their detainees. And the Harderwijk dolphinarium is not an exception.

One Voice commends the work of the Dutch journalists. This young team did not hesitate to take risks and to push the enquiry quite far. This vocation must be credited for revealing sometimes difficult truths and for allowing the public to have full access.

Unfortunately, most media channels have only relayed the shock video posted on YouTube, accompanied by denial from the Netherlands park. But behind these terrible images, what suffering!

It is urgent that other serious enquiries are led by the leisure industry and on the economic levers underlying it, from the Taiji Bay to the heart of Europe. It is not a funny or hype generating subject, but it causes much suffering and deaths amongst thousands of cetaceans in the world.

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