Flipper Seal of Approval

Dolphin-Safe Tuna Certification Program
Fact Sheet

What is the Flipper Seal of Approval?

The Flipper Seal of Approval is a logo that tuna firms can license and display on their cans IF they have met the tough "dolphin saving" standards established by the Flipper Seal of Approval Program. The Flipper Seal of Approval is similar in concept to the Good Housekeeping seal and the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) designation.

Tuna firms given the right to display the Flipper name and/or Flipper Seal of Approval contractually agree to only purchase and sell tuna products that do not involve dolphin kills, and they agree to make other assurances of "dolphin friendliness" and "dolphin saving"in addition to those required by U.S. federal law. Participating tuna firms also agree to allow Flipper-designated monitors to examine their records and factories throughout the world to assure their compliance with the Flipper criteria. A complete list of licensing requirements is available.

What is the purpose of the Flipper Seal of Approval?

To save dolphins from unnecessary slaughter. An estimated 7,000,000 dolphins - at least - have been killed in the last thirty years by the international tuna industry by purse-seining in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) alone, with millions more killed by driftnets.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of additional dolphins still are estimated to die in the driftnets, gillnets, and purse seine nets of the tuna industry. These dolphin deaths are totally unnecessary, as alternative fishing techniques that do not cause dolphin deaths are both well-established and economically viable.

Two destructive fishing techniques that the Flipper Program seeks to abolish are driftnet fishing and the intentional setting of purse seine nets around fleeing herds of dolphins. In driftnet fishing, also known as "stripmining the seas," gillnets tens of miles in length are laid out overnight, catching all large marine organisms in their path, including dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and birds, as well as "target species" such as squid and tuna. According to information compiled by Australian scientists, driftnets killed between 315,000 and 1,060,000 dolphins and whales in 1990 in the Pacific alone. Although Earthtrust's Driftnet program succeeded in achieving a UN ban on the methodology in international waters, 'pirate' driftnetters still ply their trade.

Purse seine nets are an efficient means of capturing schools of tuna, but in some parts of the world - most notably the ETP - large yellowfin tuna habitually swim below pods of dolphins. Tuna fishermen know this association well and exploit it by intentionally hunting down pods of dolphins and setting their purse seine nets around them, hoping to capture the tuna below. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of dolphins can die in a single "set" as the purse seine net envelopes and suffocates them. Each boat may make multiple sets in a day, and there are hundreds of boats.

What about all those other "dolphin safe" claims on tuna cans?

In 1990, responding to public concerns, most tuna firms started labeling their tuna as "dolphin safe" with a variety of logos. Unfortunately, there was no standard and established definition, legal or otherwise, for the term "dolphin safe." Some responsible tuna firms were in fact operating in a dolphin safe manner, while others used "dolphin safe" as a marketing tool as they went on killing dolphins. As a result, the buying public became increasingly skeptical about all claims of dolphin-safeness.

In September of 1991, a new U.S. law took effect that established a definition of "dolphin safe" and required tuna canners to meet certain minimum criteria before they could claim their tuna as dolphin safe. This law, called the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act (DPCIA), was a positive step in the right direction. The Flipper Seal of Approval, however, went beyond the DPCIA in that it had much stricter criteria for dolphin safety in the real world, is international in scope because it applies to both U.S. and foreign operations of a given tuna firm, and it provides for additional monitoring of tuna firms' records and factories, working in cooperation with the most conscientious tuna firms.

In 1997, the US congress passed the IDCPA, which re-defined the term 'dolphin safe' in a way many conservationists thought was fraudulent. Since that time, that re-definition has been challenged in court. In September of 2002, the Secretary of Commerce issued his 'final finding' that setting purse-seine nets around dolphins could not be proven to be the reason these dolphin populations have failed to recover. Thus, the 1997 congressional-committee redefinition of the term 'dolphin safe' was well on its way to becoming law in the USA, although this decision too is being challenged in court by pro-dolphin conservation organizations.

Among the reasons the re-definition of 'dolphin safe' is unpopular among some pro-dolphin people and organizations is that it now includes an annual 'allowable' dolphin-kill quota. The new definition of 'dolphin safe' does not mean no dolphin kills! Moreover, it is now apparently illegal for us to say more than that on this web page, because the law ALSO declared it illegal for private programs and labels to mount campaigns to "mislead" the public about perceived problems with the IDCPA. (We feel this rulemaking violates the First Amendment, but our function is to help consumers save dolphins, not interpret the Constitution).

Among other things, the laws instituting the IDCPA program require that any logo or accreditation program have a 'comparable' monitoring program to the IDCPA. Inasmuch as it would be impossible (and aesthetically unpleasant) to duplicate that program, and impossible to legally prove 'comparability', The Flipper Program has simply included a requirement that all its licensed firms selling tuna in the USA must meet IDCPA 'dolphin safe' standards and subject themselves to the IDCPA monitoring program. This is NOT an endorsement of the IDCPA program by EarthTrust or Flipper, it's just something we must include to avoid violating the new law. Our comments about the perceived efficacy of the IDCPA program are a matter of public record, but as of the recent "final finding" we will not make direct comparisons between the protections afforded by Flipper and by the IDCPA, although consumers who are not entirely brain-dead will presumably form their own opinions.

In short, the Flipper Seal of Approval is the best indicator of "No dolphin kills" tuna available today. The criteria are defined and enforced by concerned and knowledgeable conservationists, not solely by government lawmakers, toothless or corrupt treaty organizations, or tuna firm marketing departments. The Flipper Seal is international in scope. And the Flipper Seal requires participating tuna firms to open their records and factories to independent conservationist monitors. Additional information on clearing the confusion about different "dolphin-safe" definitions is also available.

There is a fundamental difference between "dolphin saving" tuna as denoted by Flipper and "dolphin safe" tuna as defined by federal law. Firms displaying the Flipper name or mark have NOT ONLY entered into strong and binding voluntary agreements to kill NO dolphins, but through their participation they help save dolphins around the world from destructive fisheries and unrelated dangers. After 16 years in the international marketplace, it remains the highest standard for those who wish to identify "dolphin saving" tuna and fisheries products.

How does the Flipper Program work?

After passing an initial evaluation, a tuna firm enters into a licensing agreement under which, in exchange for the right to display the Flipper Seal of Approval or Flipper name on its products and in its advertising, the firm contractually agrees to only purchase and sell tuna products which do not involve dolphin kills, based upon specific criteria. All driftnet-caught tuna is prohibited, as is all tuna caught by purse-seine boats of any size in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

The basic accreditation program is FREE to tuna firms, though they may incur some costs in streamlining to meet the high FSA criteria. Firms found to be non-compliant are given a warning and a chance to change their practices. If problems persist, Flipper licensing is revoked. A complete list of licensing requirements is also available.


Brenda Killian, of Earth Island Institute's International Dolphin-safe Monitoring Program, inspects tuna on the docks in Manila, November 1991. EII has been a leader in independent tuna-industry monitoring.

Why was Flipper chosen as the logo?

The Flipper Seal of Approval has been from the outset an international program, reflecting the international nature of tuna marketing. The "Flipper" name and image were chosen after extensive research revealed that "Flipper" is known throughout Asia, North and South America, Europe, Scandinavia, and many other nations as a "happy friendly dolphin" ... and is in fact the only such universal dolphin image. Cans labeled with Flipper are thus instantly recognizable throughout the world as "dolphin saving" tuna.

Who developed the Flipper Seal of Approval Program?

The Flipper Seal of Approval is a program of Earthtrust, a nonprofit wildlife conservation organization headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Flipper Program was developed by Earthtrust as a market-based approach to preserving one of the world's most intelligent mammals--the dolphin. The Flipper Seal of Approval Program is planned to be transferred from Earthtrust, after an initial period of establishment and organization, to a separate nonprofit entity, The Flipper Foundation, whose chartered purpose is to maintain the activities defined by the Flipper Program.

The Flipper Seal of Approval has been endorsed by a variety of conservation organizations from throughout the world.



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