Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Earlier this month, Leonie Vestering filed a criminal complaint against Europe's largest marine park after an undercover documentary revealed employees to be masturbating the animals.
The release of an investigation into Aspro Park Dolfinarium Harderwijk—an aquatic park in the Netherlands that's similar to SeaWorld—by a Dutch TV show called RamBam has sparked ire amongst animal activists. Footage from the show's undercover documentary, which aimed to expose the living conditions for dolphins at Europe's largest marine mammal park, shows a male trainer using his hand to masturbate a male dolphin and rewarding him with fish afterwards. The clip that shows the dolphin masturbation has over 200,000 views.
One woman who viewed the the video, Leonie Vestering, filed a criminal complaint earlier this month that alleged the dolphinarium routinely sexually abused its animals. The marine park, meanwhile, insists that jerking off dolphins is a "de-stressing" technique. The dolphinarium also claims that they're training the dolphins so that they might collect the sperm for a future artificial insemination program, according to the Netherland Times.
Dutch prosecutors, who reviewed Vestering's complaint within 48 hours, affirmed the practice. "The sexual act with the dolphin is performed in the context of training the dolphin for the release of sperm as part of a breeding program," they said in a statement provided to Metro.
Vestering, who is a politician associated with the Party for the Animals but filed the complaint independently, adamantly claims that there is "no way" this is a part of a training program. She believes that the marine park masturbates the dolphins so that the animals can perform more tricks; the Dutch dolphinarium is classified as a zoo, but Vestering claims it's more comparable to a circus. The documentary for Rambam also took this angle, and they have a point: Much like SeaWorld—where animals are kept in captivity for amusement as much as conservation—the marine park heavily advertises dolphin, walrus, and sea lion shows on its website.
"The dolphinarium is not a part of an artificial insemination program," Vestering told Broadly. "But they now claim that they are training the dolphins to give sperm so that they can possibly can join an artificial insemination program in the future. Jerking off animals purely for releasing sexual tension in my opinion is sexual. It's not proper training, and it is violating the animals. This is the wrong solution for the problem of having 14 sexual frustrated males in a small fish tank."
To back up her claims, Vestering had Dr. Ingrid Visser, a New Zealand–based researcher who specializes in whales and dolphins, analyze the situation in a report. Dr. Visser viewed RamBam's documentary and also visited the dolphinarium multiple times independently.
"There is graphic video starting at 15:34 running until 15:59 (25 seconds) showing a male trainer masturbating a male dolphin. The trainer is seen to give the dolphin food afterwards, reinforcing the behavior. At no time during this video footage is a receptacle present for the semen to be collected (which would be the case, if the animal was being used for an AI program)," she writes. "Even if this was a training session, it would be appropriate to have the receptacle at least present as this 'desensitizes' the animal to it (that is, it won't be afraid of the receptacle if it suddenly appears)." While SeaWorld recently announced that they will stop breeding killer whales in captivity due to criticism fueled by the documentary Blackfish, Visser also notes a video from the American amusement park in which the proper method she describes is shown.
This is the wrong solution for the problem of having 14 sexual frustrated males in a small fish tank.
Thanks to Vestering and a Dutch animal welfare organization called Wilde Dieren de Tent Uit, wild animals have already been banned from circuses in the Netherlands due to the poor and unnatural conditions that put stressors on their health. She hopes to accomplish the same thing for the dolphins at the marine park, which, according to Dr. Visser's report, are kept in shallow tanks in unusual all-male groupings that exacerbate the dolphins' aggressive tendencies.
"I believe the right solution would be to close down the show part of the dolphinarium and to give the dolphins a big tank that suits their natural needs," Vestering said. "That way, the dolphinarium can educate audiences about the natural behavior [of dolphins] instead of [about] this sick, unnatural circus behavior."
After prosecutors sided with the dophinarium, Vestering submitted an extended complaint and plans to go to court if the same decision is returned.
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