Captivity related issues

Concern for the welfare of cetaceans in captivity has increased, especially over the past several decades, in line with concern for other animals in captive settings.

Recently, a few initiatives have been made public, which aim at providing those increasingly necessary facilities posing an alternative to dolphinaria, by creating a semi-captive environment; the so-called cetacean sanctuaries or refuges. In an ACCOBAMS’ context it is suggested to use the latter term “refuge”, to avoid confusion with concepts of marine protected areas (e.g., Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean whales and dolphins).

These refuges may also offer an alternative, when dolphins strand as a result of disease, trauma or environmental conditions, and they need housing while going through rehabilitation process.

Although a refuge for cetaceans may be open to visitors and include public outreach and education programs, it is not an entertainment facility, so the needs of the cetaceans and their welfare must be always the priority.



Semi-captivity has been an issue considered for several years by ACCOBAMS, which was addressed in particular in 2 reports:

– “Taking of cetaceans, dolphinaria and quasi-dolphinaria: a legal analysis relating to ACCOBAMS Parties” (ACCOBAMS-MOP7/2019/Inf09) prepared by Prof. Tullio Scovazzi and Mrs Ilaria Tani in 2017; and

– “Scientific perspective on “potential marine semi-enclosed facilities” in the ACCOBAMS Area” (ACCOBAMS-MOP8/2022/Inf52) prepared by Joan Gonzalvo in 2021.


During their Eighth Meeting (MOP8), ACCOBAMS Parties agreed that the Scientific Committee should establish an Advisory Committee on semi-enclosed facilities to provide guidance to interested Parties in relation to all questions related to semi-enclosed facilities. At its Fifteenth meeting held on 10-11 May 2023 in Tunis, the ACCOBAMS Scientific Committee adopted Terms of Reference for an ACCOBAMS Advisory Committee on semi-enclosed facilities , approved its composition and appointed Joan Gonzalvo as Chair.


In 2024, the Advisory Committee will be working on the drafting of Guidelines for Best Practices During the Installation and Management of Semi-enclosed Facilities for Cetacean Species in the ACCOBAMS Area, which will be then reviewed by the ACCOBAMS Scientific Committee at the SC16 Meeting, scheduled for December 2024.