FAQ about dolphins

Tampereen Särkänniemi Oy decided in October 2015 to end its dolphinarium activities and shut down the Dolphinarium located in Tampere, Finland. Särkänniemi’s four bottlenose dolphins Veera, Delfi, Leevi and Eevertti were relocated to Attica Zoological Park’s dolphinarium in Spata, Greece on August 28th 2016. The transfer went according to plan. All dolphins are currently doing fine and are adjusting to their new surroundings.

FAQ:

  1. Why didn’t you inform the public about the transfer beforehand?

Discussions had with authorities beforehand convinced Särkänniemi that the focus in the transfer process should be in the operative process and human and animal safety. Good connections with the local police authorities made sure that in the end the transfer was executed the best way possible for the animals and with no external disturbance.

  1. Why Attica Zoological Park?

Attica Zoological Park was chosen as the animals’ new home because the European endangered species protection program EEP gave the park its highest recommendation, and this recommendation also binds Särkänniemi.

Särkänniemi researched every possible alternative for the dolphins’ new home. Särkänniemi researched projects both inside and outside of Europe. Attica Zoological Park was the best option out of many alternatives and is committed to the wellbeing of the animals.

  1. How were you certain that Attica Zoological Park was suitable for the dolphins?

Särkänniemi’s veterinarian, dolphin trainer and CEO visited the park in summer 2016. Additionally, Särkänniemi had an affirming statement of the park from an international dolphin transfer expert.

The transfer was prepared by Särkänniemi Dolphinarium’s veterinarians and trainers, who know these animals the best. The staff in charge of the operation was constantly in contact with local and international experts and animal welfare organizations. Särkänniemi trusts that these parties represent the best expertise available, and firmly believes them to make the right choices in this matter.

EAAM (European Association for Aquatic Mammals) has ran a quality check at Attica Zoological Park and given it its mark of acceptance and accreditation.

  1. Why couldn’t the dolphins stay in Särkänniemi? Isn’t Särkänniemi obligated to provide an elderly home for the dolphins at Tampere?

Dolphins are gregarious animals, so they couldn’t be left into a shrinking pod where inevitably there would be only one elderly dolphin left. Creating an elderly home would have required Särkänniemi to bring new dolphins to the park.

Until now there has been discussions that these animals deserve a chance to see sunlight and preferably the ocean. Transferring the animals into a sea sanctum would have been too great of a risk, since Särkänniemi’s pools don’t have the same bacteria as in the ocean, and transferring the animals straight into a sea sanctuary would have required Särkänniemi to make adaptations that were not possible, e.g. using natural sea water in their pools. Very thorough research was done with experts about this option.

  1. How do you make sure the animals are doing well in Attica Zoological Park?

Särkänniemi’s trainers are at Attica Zoological Park to ensure the animals are adapting well. Attica’s animal care and veterinarian units are committed to the animals’ wellbeing. The animals are outside where people can see them, but will only re-enact their natural behaviors in educational presentations. Särkänniemi and Attica Zoological Park will continue their communication regarding the dolphins, but the responsibility for the animals is now transferred to Attica Zoological Park.

  1. Many dolphins have died at Attica Zoological Park. Doesn’t that concern you?

Attica Zoological Park has reported 5 dolphin deaths since its establishment. Four of the deaths have been calf mortalities, which are unfortunately very common in both nature and under human care. 15 calves and 3 adults have died at Särkänniemi.

  1. Is it possible that the animals could be transferred to a sea sanctuary later?

The responsibility for the animals has been transferred to Attica Zoological Park, and in the future they will make all the decisions regarding the dolphins. Transferring the animals into a sea sanctuary from Särkänniemi would have required Särkänniemi to make adaptations that were not possible, e.g. using natural sea water in their pools. This conclusion was reached with experts.

  1. Were the animals sold to Attica Park? How are you sure that the animals are not sold again in the future?

The relocation of the animals to Attica Zoological Park was gratuitous, meaning that neither party benefitted from the transfer financially.

This was a normal animal transfer between cetacean hosting facilities, which is overseen by authorities and experts. A new transfer would only be possible in a situation where the animals’ welfare required it.

  1. Was the decision to close the Särkänniemi Dolphinarium too rash?

The decision to close the Dolphinarium has been in discussion for years, and before the closing many other options and alternatives were researched. When Särkänniemi decided it would close the Dolphinarium, the decision was based on a vast study about the dolphins’ future, and EEP’s reassurance that the animals would find a new home from within Europe. Särkänniemi had the knowledge that a dolphinarium filling all criteria would be found. Additionally, Särkänniemi wanted to see if a sea sanctuary would be a real option for its dolphins. The company’s decisions have been, and still are, based on thorough research where animal experts’ views are held to the highest regard.

  1. What was the most pressing reason for closing the Dolphinarium?

Even though the Dolphinarium still had its fans, and knowing how important these dolphins are to many customers and especially their trainers, attitudes towards keeping dolphins in captivity have changed. Särkänniemi was also in a situation where keeping the Dolphinarium running would have required bringing in more dolphins, and therefore it would have needed to continue its dolphinarium business for decades.

  1. There has been suspicion that the animals can’t handle the transfer and can’t adjust to their new home. How can you be certain that the animals will be fine?

Transferring animals and bringing them to a new environment always involves risks, and something unexpected could happen. According to experts the transfer was possible and all-but-necessary according to EEP’s ruling.

  1. Are the animals now victims of Särkänniemi’s search for the highest profit?

When the decision was made to close the dolphinarium it was decided that Särkänniemi would search the best place for the animals to live. Särkänniemi did not want to sell the animals for profit.

  1. Did you consider putting the animals down?

This option has been discussed a lot in public, but it was never an option according to veterinarians and other experts. From the beginning Särkänniemi wanted to find a new place for the dolphins which would best suit their needs. All research was made based on this decision.

  1. How much keeping the animals would have cost to Särkänniemi? How much would the city of Tampere have paid for the upkeep of the Dolphinarium?

Keeping the animals cost Särkänniemi circa 1.5 million euros a year, and to keep the animals at Särkänniemi until the end would have been a continuous project for decades to come. In addition to this, keeping the pod healthy would have required us to bring in more dolphins.

Tampereen Särkänniemi Oy pays its own investments and expenses, and provides its owner, city if Tampere, with annual dividends.

  1. Has Särkänniemi’s reputation suffered from this commotion?

The transfer process has gained a lot of publicity and also caused impatience and misunderstandings, which is understandable.

  1. What and who are those experts, organizations and veterinarians whose opinions the selection of Attica Zoological Park is based on?

The Species Committee of cetaceans of the European Endangered Species conservation programme (EEP) has given its binding recommendation of the facility. The recommendation is based on a unanimous view of the members of the committee. This species committee holds the best and most comprehensive international expertise of all Europe’s marine mammal parks, their circumstances, animal transfers and animal re-introduction to different pod compositions and living environments.

The species committee consists of dolphin veterinarians and dolphin experts. The species committee guides and oversees marine mammal park operation and animal transfers.

Attica Zoological Park is accredited by Europe’s EAAM. EAAM has highlighted that they fully support EEP’s ruling in the matter.

Attica Zoological Park’s marine mammal curator has, together with the park’s veterinarian and park’s leader, provided us with a statement which describes the dolphins’ living facilities, introduction of the staff and expert resources and also a plan for the dolphins’ adjustment phase.

Highly experienced international marine mammal veterinarian, who knows both Attica Zoological Park’s animals and facilities and Särkänniemi’s animals, has stated that the transfer is the best option for the dolphins.

  1. Who can I contact to ask, from a veterinary medicine point of view, about Attica’s facilities and transfer decision?

The living conditions and facilities at Attica Zoological Park and the adjustment process at the dolphinarium can best be described by its own veterinarian.

Questions regarding the selection of Attica Zoological Park as the transfer destination is best answered by EEP programme’s coordinator and the species committee’s chairman.

  1. Are these veterinarians impartial?

All leading European marine mammal experts are/have been connected in some way with marine mammal parks and therefore are also connected to EEP. But precisely for this reason they are the best experts; marine mammal parks give them an opportunity to observe and immerse themselves with the animals’ species-typical behavior. However, EEP remains impartial while issuing statements.

  1. How were you prepared for the risks involving the transfer?

Transferring animals and bringing them to a new environment always involves risks, regardless of the location. Särkänniemi has done a thorough and vast risk assessment and is prepared to deal with any surfacing issue with the help of international experts.

  1. a) Risks involving the transfer

Särkänniemi was fortunate to receive help from a highly experienced animal transfer expert to lead and help realize the transfer. The transfer preparations were carefully conducted for months. Transferring animals is always risky and very stressful for all animals and humans involved. These risks are not dependent on the location where the animals are transferred.

  1. b) Risks involving new living conditions, e.g. facilities and water

Together with Attica Zoological Park’s staff Särkänniemi agreed on actions that would reduce the risks of the transfer. Särkänniemi has, for example, adjusted the animals to greater changes in water temperature and Attica Zoological Park has created a phase-to-phase plan to adjust the animals to their new environment. Särkänniemi has gone through the plans with Attica Zoological Park’s curator and an international marine mammal veterinarian, and reviewed all currently known details related to transfer and rehabilitation from a veterinary medicine point-of-view.  Särkänniemi’s dolphin trainers and veterinarians are currently in Greece, helping the dolphins during the adjustment phase and, if deemed needed, will continue to stay at Attica Zoological Park to further help the dolphins.

  1. c) Risks involving proposed inadequacy of staff and expertise

Attica Zoological Park has recently recruited more senior-level staff. Additionally, Attica Zoological Park has at its disposal the expertise of both international veterinarians and Särkänniemi’s staff. Attica Zoological Park must have protection programme EEP’s approval when making decisions regarding the animals transferred from Särkänniemi.

  1. d) Risks involving the animals’ age and condition

According to veterinarians all Särkänniemi’s animals were in transfer condition. The risk is  always higher with old animals, and waiting would only have increased the risk.

  1. It has been proposed that best place for the animals would be at Särkänniemi

The best short-term solution for the animals would be to not transfer them away from Särkänniemi. This is true regardless of the transfer location. However, in the long run the situation is different, because to ensure the wellbeing of the pod, Särkänniemi would have needed to bring in more dolphins very soon.

  1. Should Veera have been put down due to her old age?

There are no medicinal reasons why Veera should have been put down. Veera is old but a healthy animal.

According to the professional ethics of veterinarians and Särkänniemi’s views the dolphins should not be put down unless there are medical reasons for it. This would mean a serious illness weakening the animal drastically or e.g. complications arising during the transfer process leading to the animal’s suffering.

  1. Why weren’t the risks involving the transfer and adaptation discussed publicly?

Risks have been studied and taken into consideration during the entire process whenever a risk has been identified. Transferring animals and bringing them to a new environment always involves risks, regardless of the location. The selection of Attica Zoological Park as the transfer location was never questioned by Särkänniemi’s acting management, and all decisions were based on EEP’s dolphin veterinarians and experts’ evaluation and accreditation of Attica Zoological Park’s facilities and staff capabilities.

Särkänniemi’s CEO, Särkänniemi Dolphinarium Supervisor and the Dolphinarium’s veterinarian visited Attica Zoological Park in June, 2016 to evaluate the location and have since discussed its suitability as the dolphins’ new home. Veterinarians associated with Särkänniemi have since made a series of critical observations related to e.g. pod composition, water temperature, insufficient staff and the lack of a computer elevated floor. All aforementioned deficiencies have been taken into consideration by creating a proper adaptation plan, adjusting the dolphins at Särkänniemi to greater changes in temperature and Attica Zoological Park hiring more senior-level staff and a computer elevated floor to one of their pools.

  1. Is the pod composition abnormal at Attica Zoological Park?

The pod composition is an essential question. The pod at Attica Zoological Park will consist of one female and several males, which can lead to the animals behaving aggressively towards each other. This is impossible to predict beforehand. On the other hand, it is possible that the pods will merge without issues. Attica Zoological Park is committed to a successful merge and relies on their step-by-step plan to make the merge of the pods as risk-free as possible.

The pod at Särkänniemi also had one female with several males. Internal clashes within the pod and the formation of a hierarchy is species-specific behavior has also been seen at Särkänniemi. Having an all-male pod doesn’t mean a peaceful adaptation phase nor coexistence.

If necessary, the animals will be kept in separate pool areas to avoid possible aggression.

All marine mammal parks have different pod compositions so adaptation is needed always and everywhere. When new animals are added to the pod, a new hierarchy is always born.

So called normal pod consistency only exists in nature, where internal clashes and the formation of a hierarchy is independent from human control and influence.

  1. What problems does the change of water temperature bring?

At Attica Zoological Park the water temperatures change with the seasons. When Särkänniemi’s Dolphinarium was still open the water temperature was kept at circa 20 degrees Celsius year-round. After the decision to close the Dolphinarium and when transfer location alternatives were discovered Särkänniemi began adjusting the dolphins to greater temperature changes. Starting from December 2015 the water temperature was gradually lowered and reached 15 degrees Celsius at its minimum. Respectively, in June and July 2016 the water was gradually heated up to 26 degrees Celsius. These changes in water temperature are very common in nature.

  1. What do you want to say to people who are worried about the animals’ wellbeing?

At Attica Zoological Park Särkänniemi’s dolphins gain a bigger living space, real sunlight, new pod mates and a committed and professional staff to continue taking great care of them. This transfer was a great solution for the animals.

26 There was a claim that Attica Zoological Park doesn’t have money to feed the animals. Will the dolphins starve?

During Greek’s financial crisis capital controls were enforced and international transfers were restricted.  A part of the animals’ food at Attica Zoological Park is imported, so due to these imposed restrictions it would have become difficult to pay for the imported food. Lack of money was never an issue, the only difficulties came from restricted money transfers. Attica Zoological Park’s manager explained the issue to the ministry and gained a special permission to pay for the imported food well before the food would have actually ran out.

  1. Attica Zoological Park’s owners have publicly stated that Veera and Delfi could be transferred elsewhere in the future. Is this possible?

Attica Zoological Park and Särkänniemi will maintain good levels of communication in the future, and Attica Zoological Park will refer to Särkänniemi when it comes to new decisions regarding the dolphins. All decisions must also be approved by the European endangered species protection program EEP. Permissions from officials are required to transfer the dolphins, and those are not granted without pressing reasons. A new transfer would only be possible in a situation where it would be the best solution for the animals.

28.How educational presentations differ from shows?

At Attica Zoological Park the dolphins participate in educational presentations. The routine has changed over the years. The dolphins do not do any tricks and only natural behavior is encouraged. There is no music, no hoops and no balls, and the specific physiological characteristics of these animals, the threats in the wild, etc. are explained and presented to the public, along with sensitizing the public about the protection of the oceans. The dolphin trainers are still in contact with the animals to ensure proper enrichment for the animals.

  1. Will Särkänniemi’s dolphins be part of Attica’s dolphin therapy experiment?

No. Särkänniemi’s dolphins are not trained for having a stranger next them in the water, and this sort of training will not be initiated either. Attica Zoological Park sent out a press release on Thursday August 31st stating that another company had advertised dolphin therapy sessions at Attica Zoological Park without their consent, and that the company has now taken down those advertisements at the risk of Attica Zoological Park pressing charges against them. Veera, Delfi, Leevi and Eevertti will not be part of any kind of dolphin therapy experiments.

  1. Did Särkänniemi resign from AMMPA so that it could transfer the animals to Attica Zoological Park, which is not a member of the association?

No. Särkänniemi resigned from the American AMMPA (Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums) in 2014 for financial reasons, and there was no need to continue the membership when the decision was made in 2015 to discontinue all dolphinarium activities. The essential organization for dolphin transfer decisions was instead of AMMPA its European equivalent EAAM (European Association for Aquatic Mammals). The species committee of EEP, consisting of experienced marine mammal veterinarians and experts, was responsible for the selection of Attica Zoological Park as the best location for Särkänniemi’s dolphins.

  1. Are Attica Zoological Park’s pools shallower than in Särkänniemi?

No. The main pool is 44 meters in length and 23 meters in width, and its depth varies between 5,5 ja 6 meters. The main pool also comes with a shoal area. The two smaller pools, both partially covered, have a diameter of 12 meters, with the depths of 3,5 meters and 2,5 meters. The small medical pool has a computer operated elevating floor. The pools hold 5 million liters of purified natural sea water, which means that the pools are double the size of Särkänniemi’s. At Särkänniemi the depth of most pools was 4 meters and the expansion pool, completed in 2007, was 4,3-6 meters in depth.

  1. What are those animal protection organizations that Särkänniemi has discussed with, regarding the dolphins’ future?

Särkänniemi has discussed with several animal protection organizations and expert bodies. Some of these persons have wanted to remain anonymous and some discussions are strictly confidential. In Finland Särkänniemi has, additionally, discussed with Oikeutta eläimille organization, Animalia and Valaiden Puolesta ry.

Press release Aug 28th, 2016: The four dolphins of Särkänniemi have been relocated to Attica Zoological Park in Greece

Tampereen Särkänniemi Ltd. decided in October 2015 to discontinue dolphinarium activities and close the Dolphinarium situated in Tampere, Finland. The four bottlenose dolphins of Särkänniemi Dolphinarium, Veera, Delfi, Leevi and Eevertti, have been transferred to Attica Zoological Park, located near Athens in Spata, Greece on August 28th, 2016. The transfer went according to plan.

The new location has been selected by European marine mammal veterinarians and experts, with the wellbeing of the animals being the top priority in the selection process. Making the final decision took longer than expected, since the best solution for the animals was carefully and thoroughly researched.

“This decision was the best alternative for Särkänniemi’s dolphins. The dolphins will now have bigger living spaces and a dedicated staff providing them with all the care that they need. We have heard a wide range of experts in this field and researched all possible alternatives. This location also received a unanimous and binding recommendation from the Species Committee of European Endangered Species Program (EEP)”, explains Särkänniemi’s CEO Miikka Seppälä.

The EEP ruling binds Särkänniemi

Attica Zoological Park is committed to continue Särkänniemi’s work in taking good care of the animals. The relocation of the animals to a new park was gratuitous, meaning that neither party benefitted from the transfer financially. Särkänniemi received a unanimous decision from the Species Committee of EEP, operating under the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), to relocate the animals to Attica Zoological Park. The decision in question binds Särkänniemi, since EEP is responsible for overseeing all matters related to endangered species and dolphins. The EEP species committee consists of highly experienced marine mammal veterinarians and other experts. The Finnish and Greek authorities granted all CITES permissions required for the transfer in June 2016.

Transferring animals and bringing them to a new environment always involves risks. Särkänniemi has done a thorough and vast risk assessment and is prepared to deal with any surfacing issue with the help of international marine mammal experts, veterinarians and Attica Zoological Park Dolphinarium staff. To successfully execute the transfer Särkänniemi received help from highly experienced international animal transfer experts that are now in Greece to aid the dolphins adjust to their new home. Särkänniemi’s own dolphin trainers are also at Attica Zoological Park making sure that the animals are readjusting themselves properly to their new environment.

More space for the dolphins

Attica Zoological Park is a member of the international organizations EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and EAAM (European Association of Aquatic Mammals). Together with EAZA the park actively participates in 29 programs under EEP. Since 2004 the park has used the International Species Information System database where EAZA and WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) gather detailed information from their registered members, including but not limited to: animal offspring, behavior and veterinary medicine. Attica Park offers a vast selection of educational activities and collaborates with educational institutions in Greece.

The dolphin pools of Attica Zoological Park were built in 2010. The dolphins can access four pools at the park. One main pool that is larger and comes with a shoal area, two smaller pools that are both partially covered, and a small medical treatment pool for emergencies. The pools hold 5 million liters of purified natural sea water, which means that the pools are double the size of Särkänniemi’s. At Attica Zoological Park the dolphins participate in educational presentations, but the park doesn’t hold any performances solely for entertainment purposes. There are four other dolphins, in addition to those transferred from Särkänniemi, currently living in Attica Zoological Park.

Attica Zoological Park’s Dolphinarium has 24 years of marine mammal experience. The Dolphinarium Supervisor has over 20 years of experience in caring for marine mammals. Moreover, the Dolphinarium has five more trainers, a veterinarian and additional assisting staff. Särkänniemi’s CEO, Särkänniemi Dolphinarium Supervisor and the Dolphinarium’s veterinarian visited Attica Zoological Park in the summer 2016. One of Särkänniemi’s longest serving dolphin trainers has also been involved in accrediting Attica Zoological Park’s Dolphinarium earlier in the past as a part of an international expert group.

Särkänniemi Dolphinarium

Särkänniemi Dolphinarium operated from 1985 to 2015. During these three decades approximately 200,000 people visited the Dolphinarium annually. Two of the dolphins, Leevi (1993) and Eevertti (1996), were born at Särkänniemi. The oldest two, Veera and Delfi, were brought to Särkänniemi originally from the USA coastline.

“We know that both the fans of the dolphins and our staff will dearly miss Veera, Delfi, Leevi and Eevertti, especially those people who have excelled in taking care of these dolphins for so long,” Särkänniemi’s CEO Miikka Seppälä, explains. “Since it wasn’t possible for the company to continue its dolphinarium activities, we unfortunately had to make this decision. We trust that this is the best solution for the dolphins, since the pod would inevitably shrink over time, and we don’t want gregarious animals to be left without the company they need. Attica Zoological Park is committed to taking good care of these animals.”

Dolphin retirement homes non-existent

There has been a lot of public discussion about sending Särkänniemi’s four dolphins to different kinds of retirement homes or natural water sanctuaries. None of these suggested places exist as of yet, nor are they currently under construction. There are no concrete designs nor any kind of realistic timetables available for these projects. Despite thorough research no suitable dolphin retirement home was found within Europe, United States or the rest of the world.

“Dolphin retirement homes do not exist. I’ve had several confidential discussions about these alternatives, but there is no information available on when they will actually be built. I have consulted both Finnish and international animal rights organizations, and none of them had an actual solution to offer. The relocation to Greece gives Särkänniemi’s dolphins a good place to live under the sun”, explains Seppälä.

The transfer of the dolphins went according to plan. Animals are currently adjusting to their new environment. During the adaptation phase Särkänniemi’s veterinarians and trainers are staying with the animals in Greece to make sure that they are readjusting themselves properly to the new living conditions.

More information:

Tampereen Särkänniemi Oy

CEO Miikka Seppälä, miikka.seppala@sarkanniemi.fi, phone: +358 20 7130 201

Attica Zoological Park

Founder Jean Jacques Lesueur, jjl@atticapark.gr, phone: +30 210 6634724
Veterinarian Tania Monreal Pawlowsky, phone: +30 210 6634725