Will Recent Fines Finally Close Illicit Greek Dolphinarium?


A fine has recently been imposed on Attica Zoological Park in Athens, Greece, for violation of Greek animal welfare laws and environmental ordinances during dolphin shows. This fine is a result of a long struggle, which unfortunately still continues on.

Attica Zoological Park began operations in 2000 as “Attica Bird Center.”  At first, their building permit only allowed the installation of livestock and poultry buildings and agricultural warehouses. Then, specific allowances for traditional and organic farming were added.

In 2010, construction of a dolphinarium was completed and its operation began, even though it had neither building permits nor authorization to operate. Within the same year, following complaints, inspections were carried out by the Urban Planning Service, who ordered demolition of the dolphinarium. By 2012, this decision was final and confirmed by a judgment of the Athens Court of Appeal.

In March 2011, an inspection was carried out by Koropi Fire Brigade and the property’s fire protection certificate was revoked. In 2013, the park’s canteen was closed down, and it was revealed that the canteen had been operating without a permit. The company’s debts to Municipality of Spata (a suburb of Athens) had risen to 2,000,000 Euros by April 2013.

A dolphin and trainer at Attica Zoological Park. Image credit John Karakatsanis, CC BY-SA 3.0.

In March 2010, four Black Sea bottlenose dolphins were transported to Attica Park from Lithuanian Sea Museum, three of whom were wild-caught. They were sent to to Attica Park despite the fact that the dolphinarium facilities should had been demolished and had not been licensed to operate. An inspection carried out by the Greek authorities revealed that the dolphins’ certificates had expired and the prescribed procedures for their transport were not followed.

In October 2010, seven more dolphins were transported from Lithuania, even though two recommendations for the dolphinarium’s closure had been made by the Forestry Directorate in June and July.  In November 2010, the Forestry Department decided on the seizure of all dolphins. This decision was never carried out, since there was no available space to transport the dolphins to. The decision on the dolphins’ seizure was eventually lifted so that Lithuania was able to claim ownership of the 11 dolphins, and finally by the end of September 2013, all of the original dolphins had been sent back to Lithuania.

Since 2010, five dolphins have died at Attica Park, including an eleven year old and three babies. Currently, they have custody of seven dolphins, who were transported to Greece from Lithuania, Finland and France. One of them, named Veera, was captured in the wild, and the rest were born in captivity.

There are serious doubts and suspicions about proper CITES certificates and tracing of individual animals, as well as whether the animals were transported according to regulations. Several questions have been made by Members of European Parliament, Members of Greek Parliament and both Greek and European animal welfare organizations in European and Greek Parliament. Also, questions had been posed to relevant Ministries and Greek Authorities.

A dolphin performing during a show at Attica Zoological Park. Somehow, despite all the controversy, these shows go on. Image credit Dimitris Kamaras, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Since 2010, several press releases have been issued by the Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation (PFPO), letters have been sent to Greek authorities, and protests have been organized by PFPO and European organizations. For more information on this ongoing case, English translations of past press releases are available here:

Somehow, even with widespread concern, multiple decisions by Greek authorities demanding the closure of the facilities, and several protests and letter-writing campaigns, Attica Zoological Park continues to operate its illicit dolphinarium, and the dolphins kept there continue to be forced to perform in shows. We hope that the recent fine will help enact change, and that finally this park will be closed and the remaining dolphins will be moved to a sanctuary or marine reserve.

Featured image: a group of dolphins perform during a dolphin show at Attica Zoological Park. Image credit John Karakatsanis, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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The Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation was established in 2010, and is the largest animal welfare organization in Greece. Their mission is to protect and uphold the rights of animals through protest and legal actions. Click to see author's profile. Learn more about PFPO's work here.

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