ZURICH, March 13 (Reuters) - Switzerland's lower house voted on Tuesday to ban the keeping of dolphins in zoo aquariums or for entertainment purposes following the deaths last year of three dolphins at a Swiss theme park.
The surprise vote was welcomed by Antoine Goetschel, Switzerland's first "animal lawyer", who urged the upper house to endorse the ban.
"I am pleased that keeping animals in this kind of way is viewed across party lines as unacceptable and to be banned," Goetschel told Reuters. He is seen as a legal advocate for pets, livestock and wildlife in the canton of Zurich.
The vote follows criticism from animal rights activists following the death of three dolphins last year at Connyland, a water theme park in Lipperswil, Switzerland.
Connyland has rejected local veterinary officials' finding that the deaths were linked to antibiotics the dolphins were being treated with, and maintained instead that the animals were poisoned. A spokesman said the water park is pursuing its own investigation through foreign experts into the cause of the deaths.
Connyland is the only theme park or zoo in Switzerland that keeps dolphins. The curator of Zurich's zoo said that while the zoo did not keep dolphins, it opposed a ban and favoured clearer guidelines on keeping aquatic mammals.
Swiss non-profit group Ocean Care, which has pursued criminal proceedings against Connyland over the dolphin deaths, also welcomed the Swiss parliament's decision. (Reporting By Katharina Bart)