« No dolphinarium, including the one in Bruges, can comply»

World-renowned scientist and living legend Dr Jane Goodall and GAIA plead in Flemish Parliament for phasing out captive dolphins in Bruges.

Brussels, Wednesday 6 March 2024 - This morning, the Animal Welfare Committee of the Flemish Parliament heard experts on the proposal for a decree "on the welfare of dolphins" submitted by Els Ampe (Voor U). Also on hand: none other than Dr Jane Goodall, the legendary UN peace ambassador and world-renowned authority anthropologist/biologist, whose research on chimpanzees in their own biotope provided groundbreaking scientific knowledge and revolutionised primatology. In a video message, Jane Goodall explained why she is fighting against keeping cetaceans in captivity and pleading for the phasing out of the keeping of dolphins at the Bruges’ Boudewijn Seapark dolphinarium: "No dolphinarium, including the one in Bruge, can meet the needs of these magnificent marine mammals!"


Jane Goodall has been committed to animal rights and nature conservation for decades. In 2023, she addressed the Flemish Minister of Animal Welfare Ben Weyts (N-VA) in a video message expressing her concern for the dolphins at the Boudewijn Seapark. This time, the living legend is addressing the members of the Flemish Parliament's Animal Welfare Committee. In a video message, Jane Goodall informed the committee members that she had brought together a research committee of dolphin experts under the chairmanship of Flemish ethicist Dr Koen Margodt, who was personally present at the session. He too made clear why Jane Goodall and himself support Els Ampe's proposed decree and want the Bruges dolphins out of the dolphinarium. GAIA president Michel Vandenbosch also expressed his support for Els Ampe's proposed decree during the hearing. He argued unequivocally for, among other things:

  • The gradual (natural) phasing out of the six dolphins kept in captivity at the Bruges’ dolphinarium of Boudewijn Seapark.
  • A breeding and import ban and no replacement of deceased dolphins.
  • A better destination for the dolphins at Boudewijn Seapark, offering guarantees of a semi-free life in a suitable bay or lagoon, where the dolphins would have a swimming area of some 20,000 square metres.

Delegates from the Bruges dolphinarium and other advocates of dolphinariums and keeping of dolphins in captivity were also heard. 

Jane Goodall's message: make the right choice for Bruges dolphins

In her message to the Flemish Parliament's Animal Welfare Committee, Jane Goodall emphasised the remarkable intelligence and rich emotional life of dolphins and why captivity is inappropriate and manifestly inadequate for these marine mammals with such special personalities. Early death, depression and aggressive behaviour are all too common in these animals.

Jane Goodall:

"No dolphinarium, including the one in Bruges, can meet the needs of these magnificent marine mammals Their habitat there is far too limited, far too small and too monotonous. A lot of research has made it clear that keeping dolphins captive in tanks (basins) must end. In a kind of semi-captivity, these magnificent marine mammals can live a more natural and varied life in a more spacious environment. The Jane Goodall Institute runs several sanctuaries for chimpanzees rescued from the entertainment industry and other captive situations (...) It's great to see how they, step by step, gain confidence, form friendships and enjoy their newfound freedom. Dolphins should be given the same opportunities. Efforts are currently being made in many countries to build marine reserves. I beg you to do the necessary and make the ethical choice that can ensure a truly better future for them."

Concerning dolphin behaviour was indeed observed in Bruges. ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ 

Codex Animal Welfare bans cetaceans in captivity ... except in Bruges  

The new Flemish Animal Welfare Codex, which the government approved at third reading a few weeks ago, will be discussed in the parliamentary Animal Welfare Committee on 13 March. It includes a ban on keeping cetaceans in captivity. But according to Michel Vandenbosch, this is a sham ban. ​ 

The codex does provide for a ban on breeding, export and import. But an exception was made for Boudewijn Seapark. On condition that an outdoor basin is constructed by 2027, Boudewijn Seapark may continue to keep a maximum of six bottlenose dolphins. Admittedly, the Flemish government can impose additional conditions, the codex vaguely mentions. Furthermore, the codex leaves the door open for a better destination based on an evaluation.


GAIA president Michel Vandenbosch explains: : "If it is determined that an operational alternative - such as a marine reserve - can provide the Bruges’ dolphins with living conditions that much better meet their needs and development potential, the dolphins should be transferred to the location in question."

A much earlier evaluation

The Animal Welfare Codex anticipates that a first evaluation would not take place until 2037. That means Bruges’ dolphins will spend at least another 13 years in captivity before their situation is given a first evaluation. That evaluation needs to come much sooner for GAIA. 

"I don't see why that evaluation can't happen much earlier and certainly as soon as a marine reserve is available where dolphins can live a better life in semi-free conditions and where they can thrive as much as possible," said Michel Vandenbosch. The decree proposal envisages an initial evaluation by 2025.

A real phase-out plan

Vandenbosch therefore pleaded during the hearing for a real effective phasing-out as envisaged by Els Ampe's decree proposal, namely a gradual phasing-out of the dolphin population in Bruges as well as a ban on the replacement of deceased dolphins, on import and reproduction, including a ban on relocation to another dolphinarium. Other conditions in the decree proposal: the realisation of an outdoor pool of 1,000 square metres per dolphin by 2027 and, by 2025 at the latest, the installation of more porous walls in the basins to absorb the sound waves reflected against the walls - acrylic glass is not absorbent. This would reduce or even eliminate noise pollution for the dolphins.

Michel Vandenbosch: "Els Ampe's proposed decree is a significant improvement on the 'ban' contained in the Animal Welfare Code, which is not actually one." 

Marine reserve for Bruges dolphins

In September 2023, Michel Vandenbosch and Els Ampe visited a planned marine reserve for dolphins on the Greek island of Lipsi in a bay separated from the open sea by copper nets. The marine reserve, where dolphins already have 32 times more water volume in an initial phase and can then also enjoy much more swimming surface than in Bruges (700 m), we should give them the chance at what they need to openly flourish. In the future, the dolphins of the Bruges’ dolphinarium can possibly and hopefully be housed in this beautiful protected bay 1 km long and 40 m deep , which rivals their natural biotope and is in stark contrast to the conditions, in which they are currently kept

From the tank to the bay

Michel Vandenbosch concludes: 

"The planned dolphin sanctuary on Lipsi is located in a wide bay, which could greatly improve the quality of life of the dolphins in Bruges and where they could enjoy for the rest of their lives. It is absurd that this opportunity for an obviously much freer existence would not be allowed to be looked at for another 12 years. If there is a real possibility that the Bruges’ dolphins can move from the tank in Bruges to a bay like in Lipsi, enjoy much more swimming area there than in Bruges, we should give them the chance for what they need to flourish openly."

More info :

Michel Vandenbosch, GAIA president : 0475 45 20 15

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GAIA – Global Action in the Interest of Animals – unites supporters for animal welfare and animal rights in Belgium since 1992. With over 80.000 affiliated members, GAIA denounces animal cruelty and abuse including thorough investigations, and active and peaceful campaigning.


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