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Brussels bans marine mammals in captivity, challenging other regions
The Brussels Capital-Region has official banned keeping marine mammals, which include seals, sea lions, whales and dolphins. The ban means that a marine mammal park will never be allowed to operate in Brussels borders, nor any other business that keeps such animals in an enclosed habitat.
Brussels is not, in fact, home to any such park, but the ban ensures that a permit for this kind of endeavour can never be granted. It also issues a challenge to the rest of Belgium – and to surrounding countries – to end the keeping of marine mammals in captivity.
Keeping the animals – and having them perform for the public – “is still allowed in Flanders and Wallonia,” Brussels animal welfare minister Bernard Clerfayt (Défi) said. “We hope that our measure encourages them to ban this as well.”
A European first
While some other European countries have a ban on keeping Cetaceans, such as dolphins and killer whales, Brussels is the first to include the smaller pinnipeds, like seals, sea lions and walrus, in a ban. “We need to rethink our relationship with animals,” said Clerfayt. “Do we really find it OK to see them jump out of the water for a few fish? Do we want to pass on this image of animals as slaves to our kids?”
Animal right organisation Gaia is naturally happy with Brussels’ decision. “The most important thing for us is the signal this send to Flanders,” said An Degreef of Gaia, “to finally draft a policy that would make keeping these animals illegal there, too.”
Belgium’s only marine mammal park is in Bruges (pictured above), with dolphins and sea lions shows the norm at Boudewijn Seapark. People can also take to the water to pet and feed dolphins and have their picture taken with them.
A sea lion pulls kids in a boat at Mont Mosan amusement park
Antwerp Zoo is home to seals and sea lions, though the latter are moving out soon. They also, however, regularly performed shows. Pairie Daiza and other animal parks in Wallonia also feature seals and sea lions, with the animals performing for the public at Mont Mosan in Huy.
“We realise that this does not change overnight, but it’s time to get the process going,” said Degreef. “Some would argue that the shows are educational for children. But we need to teach children that sea lions and dolphins deserve to swim free in their natural habitats rather than be imprisoned in marine parks or zoos, where they have to perform. That’s about entertainment, not education.”