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Cetacean advocates look to make Europe a dolphinarium-free zone Special

By Elizabeth Batt     Jun 10, 2013 in Environment
Brussels - On June 28, in the European Union's de facto capital, cetacean advocates are planning a demonstration to request the complete ban of all dolphin shows in the EU. In attendance will be former dolphin trainer -- turned activist, Ric O'Barry.
The event in Brussels, which will be co-hosted by Belgian natives Yvon Godefroid and Annelies Mullens, will urge the EU to apply the law as stated in the Council Directive and through its national law, for the betterment of cetaceans.
According to Directive 1999/22/EC of the Council of Europe, the keeping of wild animals in zoos requires that animals must be kept in conditions that meet their biological and conservation requirements. It is a requisite not possible for captive cetaceans the duo says.
So Godefroid, a seasoned dolphin activist, has teamed up with newcomer Mullens to sanction European Authorities to enforce their own law and ban any breeding program or importation of cetaceans into the EU.
Godefroid, who lives in Brussels, explained that his love for non-humans was evident at an early age. At 16 years old, he read Robert Merle's, Un animal doué de raison (1967) -- published in the US as The Day of the Dolphin (1967). It set the youth soundly on the path of activism. A subsequent interaction with two dolphins at Antwerp Zoo, only sealed the deal.
He told Digital Journal:
Iris and Ivo were shy and terrified, when they just arrived from the Mexico Gulf to this dirty overcrowded Antwerp Zoo dolphinarium around 1981. Then I met a free dolphin tribe at Panama City Beach and spent time with them over 5-6 years, enough to create a mutual friendship. When you swam underwater alongside them, and they look at you eye-to-eye, scan your skin and talk, it all becomes clear! They are PEOPLE. Like you and me. And they are totally themselves, only when free.
Mullens, from Hasselt in the province of Limburg, is the mother of two sons. She discovered her passion for cetaceans last summer after a family holiday to Cornwall. While there, the family enjoyed a dolphin watch tour with an eco-friendly boat operator.
"We saw a pod of common dolphins that came swimming towards our boat," Mullens told me, "it was very emotional to me, I even had to cry."
On her return home, she kept in touch with the tour operators who widened her knowledge by alerting her to the annual dolphin drives and hunting in Taiji, Japan. Eventually she was introduced to Godefroid, and it snowballed from there. Mullens said:
Thanks to Yvon and other experienced activists, I learned about captivity. I had no clue about the cruelty of captivity before! Most of all, I realised that Taiji will never stop hunting and catching dolphins as long as there are dolphinaria.
Both dedicated and driven, the two activists may have approached advocacy from separate directions, but together, the pair are fast becoming a tour de force. Godefroid and Mullens are currently petitioning José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission to close down all existing dolphinaria.
On June 28, they will take their fight to the streets and directly to the EU when they co-host the 'Demonstration Against Captivity of Cetaceans', outside of the Federal Public Service (FPS) Health, Food chain safety and Environment building in Brussels.
The FPS has faced increasing criticism for its inaction from organizations such as the Born Free Foundation and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC).
Godefroid himself pointed out that FPS Animal Welfare had talked for three years about improving the habitat of six captive dolphins held in Bruges. "Nothing moved," he said.
We spoke with Godefroid who is also the co-founder of Dolphins Belgium, to learn more about the forthcoming demonstration.
EB: What is the core issue of the demonstration?
YG:The European Union rules our economy and our daily life. Its a kind of super-government which is able to make decisions enforcing all member nations. The European Commission edicted a Zoo Directive that is supposed to protect these animals.
The edict according to WDC, is supposed to encourage conservation, yet dolphin survival rates are lower in captivity than in the wild. It is also supposed to promote education about animals, yet little information is given at dolphin shows in the EU about their lives in the wild.
Finally, it is supposed to prevent cruelty to animals and look after their welfare, yet stress and disturbing behaviour is common amongst dolphins displayed in dolphinaria within the 15 Member States of the EU. All are failing to implement EU legislation properly.
We have no right to keep whales and dolphins in captivity. We want to make the European Union a dolphinarium-free zone. So, the issue of this demo is directly inspired by the WDC European Campaign: Make the European Union a dolphinarium-free zone.
EB: What do you hope to achieve?
YG: We want the end of any form of cetacean captivity. We want the end of this trans-species slavery. Dolphins are marine sentient beings, fashioned for swimming fast and far in the ocean. Their minds are made for socializing, hunting, fighting, loving, discovering and it's absolutely impossible to recreate the ocean in a water box.
We would like to see the creation of closed marine bays where captive dolphins could be rehabilitated as soon as their mind is repaired. Even the captive-born. I insist on this point, because we don't want to see a new kind of super-dolphinarium arising.
Dubai and Singapore already offer lagoons and open air to their Solomon, Japanese or Russian-captured dolphins, but the dolphins are still exploited and lack freedom.
The captive cetacean industry teaches us a lot about cetacean cognitive abilities but almost nothing about their social, cultural, linguistic and emotional lives. Times have changed. Captivity is no longer acceptable. Dr. Lori Marino and philosopher Thomas White have taught us that.
EB: The event has really snowballed. I understand Ric O'Barry, star of the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove, will be joining you at the demo?
YG: Social networking is a powerful weapon we did not benefit from in the 90s, and thanks to Annelies' 24 language videos plus the support of so many friends from all parts of the world, this event grows as something new, stronger, international, indeed.
And yes, Ric supports this fight and it's an honor for us. It's not the first time he came to Belgium. In 1995, when the last dolphins died at Antwerp (29 officially), it was too much. We had to act. With the help of English friends who released Missie, Silver and Rocky in 1991, and with the help of Ric O'Barry coming from the USA, he also helped us to close Antwerp zoo dolphinarium in 1999.
With his strong public reputation (43 years of fighting captivity and now releasing Korean dolphins), he was here in 2004 for a demo just in front of Bruges dolphinarium, with good results. We got a Parliamentary Commission talking about a future ban for any new dolphinarium (although the law was never voted in). And now Ric comes through for Europe again.
EB: How many people are you expecting at the demo?
YG: I'm not sure of the numbers. Maybe 500? Maybe 1000? Never mind. The most important thing is that a lot of dolphin defenders are coming from Europe, USA and even from Indonesia. And our petition has been signed by more than 10,000 people. Politics and the media cannot ignore such facts.
EB: Do you think you'll be successful?
YG: We will try to meet Dr. Joel Lhoir of the Zoo Animal Welfare Department and give him a protest letter to be transmitted to his Minister, M. Laurette Onkelinx and to José Barroso.
Our land is the core of Europe, we must encourage other European nations to stop this leisure industry. Belgium (which has one dolphinarium in Bruges), is present at the IWC (International Whaling Commission), as an active anti-whaling member.
Belgium is also a member of ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic) and ASCOBANS (Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Sea), yet it allows an aquatic circus with mind-broken cetaceans at Bruges". Where is the logic?
I don't think it's unrealistic. You know, Belgium is a strange, tiny country. Besides Jerome Bosch, Rubens, Tintin or Jacques Brel, we also have Georges Lemaître, who discovered the Big Bang theory. We have Auguste Piccard, pioneer of the bathyscaphe.
We were also among the first nations to allow contraception, abortion, gay marriage, artificial insemination and even euthanasia and one of the first countries to ban experiments on Great Apes. Belgians love new ideas. And they love animals. Next summer, they will vote for politicians who protect animals.
EB: If anyone is interested in helping or joining the event, who should they contact?
YG: Either Ric O’Barry through the Dolphin Project website, or Annelise and myself via our Facebook event page.
The demonstration is being supported by La Dolphin Connection France, and Orka Coalitie in the Netherlands, but Godefroid was quick to add, "It's mainly a citizen gathering, with no leading association, like in Turkey. A kind of a “Blue Spring".
As for his colleague-in-arms, Godefroid said of Mullens:
Annelies is a relative new-comer to this field but her energy and involvement is really astounding. She's gathered thousands of people, created multi-language videos, and never stops working for the dolphins' freedom on all fronts.
But it won't be all demo and no play. The Irish band, The Amazing Few, are traveling from Dublin to perform at the protest.
Ric O'Barry meanwhile, is hoping for a phenomenal turnout for the 'European Union Demo in Brussels'. O'Barry, fresh off a trip to South Korea, where he has been helping to rehabilitate and release four illegally-caught captive dolphins, said, "Let's see if we can get more than 1000 protesters in front of that government building in Brussels!"
More about European union, taiji dolphin drives, anticaptivity, Dolphins, cetaceans
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