In what has been hailed a major victory by wildlife campaigners and animal rights activists, France has banned the captive breeding of dolphins and orcas, as well as outlawing the keeping of all whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity, except for orcas and bottlenose dolphins already held.
This ban on captive breeding will eventually phase out marine parks in the country, but in the meantime has an immediate effect in that it also rules out direct contact between members of the public and the mammals – so no more swimming with dolphins, for instance – and requires that pools holding the animals be made significantly larger. Establishments have six months to comply with some of the rules, and must expand their pools within three years.
Apparently Environment Minister Segolene Royal had signed a version of the legislation on Wednesday 3 May, but then decided to further tighten the rules and completely ban captive breeding after finding out that ‘some animals were drugged’ in aquariums.
The association of French zoos complained that they had not been consulted on the ban, but conservation groups including Sea Shepherd issued a joint statement in which they celebrated the end of ‘marine circuses’.
UK orca had extreme levels of toxic pollutants
Around the same time as this historic decision was made in France, a report has revealed that an adult orca from the UK’s last resident pod, which died back in January 2016 after becoming tangled up in creel ropes, had extremely high levels of toxic PCBs in its body.
Lulu, as the animal was known, was estimated to be around 20 years old, yet had never produced a calf (orcas typically reach sexual maturity from six to ten years old). PCBs are known to cause infertility and considering that her blubber contained 950mg/kg – more than 100 times the 9mg/kg limit above which damage to the health of marine mammals is known to occur – it is feared that the rest of the pod are similarly affected, and given that no calves have been seen in the 23 years the animals have been monitored, this seems a strong possibility. If this is the case, the pod is doomed to extinction.
PCBs were used for decades in electrical equipment but were finally banned in the 1980s after the full toxic impacts on people and wildlife were revealed. PCBs are especially harmful to apex predators because they build up in fat through the food chain, and as orcas can live for a substantial length of time, this means they can end up with very high levels of PCBs in their systems.