AWI seeks to persuade not just the general public and policymakers, but zoos and aquariums themselves, that cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) do not belong in captivity. Accordingly, AWI’s Dr. Naomi Rose agreed to participate in the 4th International Animal Welfare Congress, held in early May this year, hosted by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and the Detroit Zoo’s Center for Zoo Animal Welfare (CZAW). This symposium is by invitation only and this was the first year Naomi was invited. She was asked to participate on a panel discussing the future of cetacean captive display, most notably the potential for establishing seaside sanctuaries.
The symposium participants were a fascinating mix of animal welfare scientists, academics, zoo professionals, nonprofit animal groups, sanctuary operators, and media representatives. The discussions covered a wide array of topics, species, controversies, and scientific investigations. While many zoo professionals still feel that wildlife welfare is adequately safeguarded in accredited zoos, a growing number acknowledge there is significant room for welfare improvement within the zoo world, regardless of accreditation. Indeed, some now openly acknowledge that certain species cannot be adequately provided for in captivity. Several of these iconoclasts include cetaceans within that group.
The debate and dialog between animal protection advocates on the one hand and zoo representatives on the other regarding the suitability of cetaceans for captive display will continue for the foreseeable future, but events such as the WAZA/CZAW symposium demonstrate that the conversation is not standing still. AWI will continue to engage wherever minds are open to progress and change.