Fears for future of Marineland whales in south of France

One welfare association fears the orcas may be sent to Japan - a country with fewer protections for whales - and separated for reproduction reasons

A view of people watching a captive orca whale in an aquarium in Japan
Animal welfare association One Voice has said it fears the whales will be sent to Japan
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An animal protection association in France has raised questions about what may happen to three orca whales currently living at the marine life animal park Marineland in the south of France after their captivity is banned in 2026.

It will become illegal to have captive cetaceans in France at the end of that year, meaning that Inouk, Wikie, and Keijo will be ‘freed’ from Marineland in Antibes (Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur).

But animal welfare group One Voice this week shared concerns about how the orcas - a family - may be transported, and where they might end up.

New aerial footage filmed by the activists, on January 9, shows the three orcas in a small pool, filled only to one-quarter, with “several dozen people around the pool, with a stretcher pulled by a crane to try and get the orcas on it”, said Muriel Arnal, One Voice's president.

The scene was part of the animal park’s attempts to prepare the orcas for travel, One Voice said, but it claimed that the process would be traumatic for the whales, and alleged it was proof that the park was planning to send them far away.

Despite the captivity ban having been intended to help the animals, the association now fears that the orcas may be transported to Japan, a country that has fewer protections for whales.

Mr Arnal also claims that ‘a Japanese delegation’ was present at the Marineland operation. “This certainly gave the Japanese, who are going to pay millions of dollars for these orcas, the opportunity to see them up close before making their final decision," she alleged.

Ms Arnal said: “They said to us, we’re taking out an animal protection law, and we’ll transfer them to sanctuaries. But now, this law is allowing Marineland to send them somewhere worse. They’ll be separated for reproduction.”

So far, the Alpes-Maritimes prefecture has confirmed that the whales are being trained to help them to be transported after their time at Marineland ends. However, it said that the park has not yet submitted any kind of request for an export permit or health certificate. Both of these would be needed in order to transport the whales to Japan.

One Voice has said that it suggested to Marineland that the whales be transported to a sanctuary in Canada, but claimed it has not yet received a response to this.

Marineland has not responded to requests for comment, but the local tourism office confirmed that it is no longer running whale shows, and that the entrance fee into the park has been dropped by €5 per person as a result.

A forensic report on the three orcas’ state of health is expected next week, after one orca died at the park last autumn. So far, the autopsy has not revealed the reason for the death, prompting the state to ask for further tests.

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