Anger as 40-year-old dolphin chokes to death on fake seaweed placed in its enclosure to ‘enrich’ its environment at Swedish wildlife park

  • Nephele, a 40-year-old dolphin, died after choking on fake seaweed
  • She was one of 12 dolphins being kept at Sweden’s Kolmården Zoo
  • The fake seaweed was put in by zookeepers for ‘environmental enrichment’  

Animal rights activists are up in arms after a 40-year-old dolphin choked to death on fake seaweed that zookeepers placed in its enclosure for ‘enrichment.’

An autopsy report found that Nephele, the oldest dolphin at Sweden’s Kolmården Zoo, died after she couldn’t breath due to the artificial seaweed getting lodged in her throat. 

Local media reported that Nephele’s death in mid-January came as a surprise. The bottlenose dolphin was perfectly healthy one minute, before moving in an unusual way and sinking to the bottom of her enclosure. 

Kolmården Zoo’s chief veterinarian Bim Boijsen said: ‘It was a quick process. When the vet arrived at the scene, she had already passed away. It is very sad. Nephele was a much-loved dolphin.’

Boijsen said the artificial seaweed, which has since been removed from the enclosure, was added to provide ‘environmental enrichment’ to ‘stimulate the animals.’ 

An autopsy report found that Nephele, the oldest dolphin at Sweden’s Kolmården Zoo, died after she couldn’t breath due to the artificial seaweed getting lodged in her throat (File image) 

the artificial seaweed, which has since been removed from the enclosure, was added to provide 'environmental enrichment' (File image)

the artificial seaweed, which has since been removed from the enclosure, was added to provide ‘environmental enrichment’ (File image) 

‘What happened is very regrettable. We are deeply saddened by Nephele’s death,’ the chief zookeeper said.

According to the founder of Swedish animal rights group Animalkind, Daniel Rolke, Nephele was one of two dolphins controversially imported from Germany, and was originally called ‘Cindy.’

“In 1994 Kolmården bought two wild-caught female dolphins named Cindy and Mandy from Hagenback Zoo in Germany. 

‘The purchase was controversial, and at first, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency refused to allow them to be imported into Sweden, as bottlenose dolphins were on the CITES Appendix II list, which meant that they could only be imported from the country where they were born or captured. 

‘Cindy and Mandy, who were nine years old at the time, had been captured in Florida, United States in 1989. 

‘Kolmården submitted a new application, in which they stated that they would conduct “research” on the dolphins in order to avoid receiving yet another rejection.

According to the founder of Swedish animal rights group Animalkind, Daniel Rolke, Nephele was one of two dolphins controversially imported from Germany (File image)

According to the founder of Swedish animal rights group Animalkind, Daniel Rolke, Nephele was one of two dolphins controversially imported from Germany (File image) 

Kolmården Zoo, which charges just 50 Krona (£3.81) for its dolphin shows, still has 11 other dolphins in its enclosure, despite promising in 2021 to close it (File image)

Kolmården Zoo, which charges just 50 Krona (£3.81) for its dolphin shows, still has 11 other dolphins in its enclosure, despite promising in 2021 to close it (File image) 

‘So Cindy and Mandy were imported despite strong protests, and when they arrived in Sweden, Kolmården’s dolphinarium renamed them to Nephele and Delphi to make people forget the connection. 

‘Delphi died at Kolmården Zoo in 2007, in connection with a birth. And now Nephele is gone, too.’

Kolmården Zoo, which charges just 50 Krona (£3.81) for its dolphin shows, still has 11 other dolphins in its enclosure, despite promising in 2021 to close it. 

The zoo’s website says: ‘We knew that dismantling the dolphinarium could take a long time, as our highest priority is to ensure that the dolphins are well. In the meantime, the dolphinarium is open as usual.’ 

According to a scientific paper published in the Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens in 2022, ‘environmental enrichment can be used to improve the welfare of dolphins in zoos and aquariums.’