An aquarium in the Netherlands that's "de-stressing" dolphins by masturbating them isn't breaking any laws, according to prosecutors.
The situation first drew attention earlier this month when a Dutch TV show called RamBam investigated the living conditions of dolphins at the Dolphinarium, a marine park based in the city of Harderwijk. The full episode can be viewed above.
A RamBam employee who went undercover at the facility allege that the facility's 14 "show dolphins" -- which perform tricks for audiences -- are kept in enclosures that are too small, and that their water contains amounts of chlorine harmful to dolphins, according to the Netherlands Times.
But the moment getting the most media attention is the scene in which a trainer uses his hand to sexually stimulate a dolphin before giving the animal some fish.
A graphic video of the incident with the trainer's face blurred was posted to Facebook March 3, and has since gone viral.
The video is below, but the images are disturbing.
WARNING: Graphic video
The Dolphinarium told the Netherland Times the masturbation is meant to “de-stress” the animals and the ejaculate is used for a breeding program.
Leonie Vestering, an animal rights advocate who saw the RamBam report, was not impressed by the park's explanation. She filed a criminal complaint against the Dolphinarium on March 9 on grounds of "lechery" and for violating the "Five Freedoms of Brambell," a code dictating the basic rights of animals under human control.
Dutch prosecutors who investigated the complaint agreed with the park that the sexual activity seen on the video was appropriate, according to a statement released to the Metro.
"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. The act was conducted by a scientist in the context of scientific research that focuses on this breeding program."
Vestering disagrees with their findings. She told HuffPost that the investigators released their report only 48 hours after she pressed charges and didn't do, in her opinion, proper research.
"There is absolutely no way that [the genital touching] can be part of an [artificiaI insemination] program," she told HuffPost by email. "The fluids are not collected and are lost in the water."
However, Vestering does believe Dolphinarium's statement that employees are trying to reduce stress among the 14 male dolphins living together in one area.
"Trying to do tricks with sexually frustrated and aggressive animals is not possible and therefore I believe the trainer tries to lower the sexual tension in the group," she said.
But she said the manual technique is an ineffective solution to the problem.
"The other dolphins can see that one dolphin has sex with the trainer and gets fed. Now the other 13 dolphins wants the same," she said. "This only contributes to the tension and aggression in the group. Also, there is this unnatural sexual relationship between trainer and dolphin, so the dolphin thinks about sex when he sees his trainer."
Vestering sent the RamBam episode to New Zealand-based orca expert Ingrid Visser to analyze.
Visser wrote a report saying she didn't believe the trainer performing the manual release was collecting the ejaculate for breeding purposes.
"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). The ‘intern’ and the trainer discuss how far the semen is ejaculated and the volume, but at no time is collection discussed.
"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)."
The complete report can be read below.
The Dolphinarium has not responded to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.
But the park posted a statement on Facebook on March 2, in Dutch stating that the animals "the interplay between man and dolphin in all respects, fits well within all statutory schemes the dolphinarium must comply with," according to a translation by the Netherlands Times.
The marine park also insists that the animals have plenty of room to move around and meets all legal requirements.