A “bomb” has been dropped into the aquariums. A term chosen by Jon Kershaw, Animal Director at Marineland, who says the shock wave has shaken French dolphinariums. Far from the spotlight of the presidential election, the legislation signed by Ségolene Royal in order to reform the sector was published in the Journal Officiel recently. The rules were created to find common ground between water parks and animal welfare advocates, on a subject that many are quite passionate about. However, their fragile compromise was shattered. “The reproduction of currently captive orcas and dolphins in France is now prohibited. Thus, only currently captive killer whales and dolphins can continue to exist, without new births. It took two new sentences in the legislation to change everything. Of course, the captivity of these animals is not questioned in this day. But with the absence of reproduction, their lives will necessarily come to term.”
‘Close control’ has become prohibited
The Ministry of Ecology announced in a communiqué a whole series of measures reforming the regulations from 24 August 1981: the end of diving with dolphins, an increase of at least 150% of aquarium surface area, no more chlorine use, establishment of specialized teams of carers in sufficient numbers and… “close control of dolphin reproduction”. But with a stroke of the pen, the term “control” became an outright ban.
“I do not know who made the decision, but they did not understand it! And this person wants us to disappear, it’s clear,” said Jon Kershaw. As a zoological director, it is not the very existence of Marineland that is threatened in his eyes. “The life expectancy of a dolphin is about thirty years, and we have very young dolphins. Within fifteen or twenty years, amusement parks like ours may not be in fashion anymore, so we have time to change everything. But as a zoological director, it bothers me, especially for animals…”
Marineland, the first tourist attraction in the Alpes-Maritimes, has felt anti-park sentiments rise since the severe weather of October 2015. The last French park to have orcas (four, all male) knew that this breed would no longer be expected to reproduce. For eleven male and female dolphins, the affair is quite different. And Ségolène Royal, on the eve of quitting the ministry, signed a controversial decree during her final moments in office.
This makes associations such as One Voice “very happy by the announced measures. This is not the end of parks, but of the exploitation of dolphins,” according to its president Muriel Arnal. For her, the minister made “a departing gift to humanity” and not just to environmentalists. For its part, the Brigitte Bardot Foundation welcomed a “departure on a very good note” on Twitter.
“This text marks the planned end of cetacean captivity in France. This is a historical step forward!” said Lamya Essemlali. The president of Sea Shepherd France, “Madame Royal felt that public opinion was more and more sensitive towards this issue, and wanted to avoid a problem with the industry of captivity. There remains the question of cetaceans which are currently captive…” Whatever it is, the proceeding minister will not be bored.
Questions for Jon Kershaw, Animal Director at Marineland: “Depriving these animals of breeding is criminal!”
Marineland management is planning an official reaction. Animal Director, Jon Kershaw, was the first to be surprised by the latest version of a decree he was consulted about. He voiced his anger and his incomprehension.
Was the last-minute addition a surprise?
It’s more than a surprise! One is completely stunned. When I read the Journal Officiel, I had to sit down. I do not understand… How is it possible? How can we say such nonsense, when we spent eighteen months developing this decree with a group of experts and activists concerned? We had conceived something that was a little bad, of course, but we were financially ready. But there was a 180° turn over night.
What concrete implications does this new decree cover?
This decree was supposedly made for the happiness of the animals… And we are told to stop their reproduction! This means either a chemical castration or separating them. But how do I maintain a stable group by separating males and females? This is not a natural life for a dolphin, which is a social animal. Imposing this on animals born in captivity, while asking us for conservation efforts, is just amazing. To make such a decision without consulting the experts associated with this case makes it completely incoherent.
Is the future of parks in general threatened?
We are not close to closing. It’s not our future that worries me; it’s that of the animals. They are deprived of a natural function, and that is what most grieves me. I do not understand that people who preach about the happiness of animals can deprive them of reproduction. It is criminal! It’s ok, that we are attacked. But please, leave the animals out of it!
Are you going to appeal?
This decision makes us angry and gives us the urge to fight. We’re not going to stop there. This story really annoys me for animals and I can tell you that our “big boss”, who is not a financier but a director, did not like either! There will be recourses, for sure.