Recent flooding in the south of France has led to extensive damage at Marineland Antibes, a captive entertainment facility holding five orcas, fourteen bottlenose dolphins and numerous other marine species. According to Bernard Gianpaolo, director of Marineland Antibes, 90 percent of the facility's technical amenities have been compromised, which is fundamental to the care and maintenance of the facility's animals. Many of the animals' tanks are also now filled with mud.
Scientists and animal welfare advocates are gravely concerned for the welfare of Marineland Antibes' animals. Margaux Dodds, Director of Marine Connection, says:
"There is an immediate concern for the cetaceans [whales and dolphins] being left to swim in the dirty water. Any bacteria contained in the sludge can potentially cause gastrointestinal upsets and respiratory infections. There could also be irritation to the eyes, mouth and other sensitive parts of the body. It is vital that the animals be monitored for any of these ailments and it is imperative they be moved to clean water as soon as possible."
Dodds explains that all captive facilities should have contingency plans in place for their animals' relocation in case of emergencies such as this:
"Marineland Antibes should be able to confirm its plans as a matter of urgency. If it isn't able to do this, then the question must be asked why."
Among other species at Marineland Antibes, tropical fish, turtles, penguins, shark and sea lions are known to have been affected, with sharks, rays and fish having been reported to have died. Muriel Arnal, President of One Voice in France, states:
"Marineland Antibes has said it is doing everything it can so that the animals can go back to a normal life and that this is the facility's priority."
However, Arnal questions whether the "normal" captive life is good enough for the facility's cetaceans:
"There is nothing normal about whales and dolphins living in very confined spaces, performing tricks for entertainment in shows. It is high time France becomes dolphinaria-free. Our country should not be the last in Europe to take this ethical step."
This isn't the first time this year that Marineland Antibes has fallen under public scrutiny. In June 2015, the facility's last remaining wild-caught orca, known as Freya, died following a long, unidentified illness. Freya was captured from Iceland in 1982 and was almost two decades shy of the average age that female orcas are expected to live in the wild.
The Dolphinaria Free Europe (DFE) coalition has also just today released an open letter rebutting Marineland Antibes' claims about cetacean captivity. The letter was coordinated by DFE member Anne-Sophie Ring, Campaign Manager for French organization Code Animal, who says:
"This open letter is a response from over twenty international organizations to the false arguments and wrong scientific approximations put forward by Marineland Antibes. The Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition wants to prevent this facility from publishing misinformation about the capture of wild whales and dolphins and from taking credit for participating in the conservation of the species that they display for profit. Captivity is not conservation."
Ring is one among many voices now demanding answers about this weekend's disaster from the facility. She says:
"We [the Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition] ask Marineland Antibes for full transparency on the consequences for the animals at its facility and the plan it has in place to address this issue."
In the meantime, Marineland Antibes' doors remain closed to the general public while it attempts to resolve this horrific situation.