- Q: How does captivity harm dolphins?
- Q: Is captivity ok if the dolphins are kept in a really big enclosure?
- Q: Is keeping dolphins in captivity inherently stressful and cruel?
- Q: If dolphins are breeding in captivity, does that indicate they are content?
- Q: Dolphin trainers often claim they have a positive working relationship with the dolphins—is this the case?
- Q: Is it true that captive dolphins are better off because they receive veterinary care?
- The REAL issue:
- Dolphins in Captivity—The 3 Fallacies: Education, Conservation & Research
- Q: But don’t captive dolphin attractions allow people to feed, touch and see real dolphins right up close—something they might never be able to do otherwise?
- Q: Do dolphins enjoy swimming with people?
- Q: Is swimming with dolphins therapeutic?
- Q: How are dolphin-swim attractions potentially harmful to wild dolphins?
- Q: What are the associated risks of swimming with captive dolphins?
- Q: What about swimming with wild dolphins?
- Q: What is the best way to encounter wild dolphins?
- Q: How can I help dolphins?
If you want to help dolphins, please consider joining and supporting a non-profit dolphin protection society—there are some excellent suggestions on this website.
The 4th edition of The Case Against Captivity, an 82-page document produced by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), has been released. It provides the most recent, comprehensive and up-to-date information available on the issues surrounding dolphins and captivity! Click HERE to view.
REKINDLING THE WATERS: The Truth About Swimming with Dolphins contains more in depth information on all the above as well as extensive citation notes.
A: There are many ways that captivity harms dolphins. It begins with CAPTURE!
In the make-believe world of marine parks and dolphin-swim attractions, no mention is made of how many dolphins were forcibly stolen away from their families and communities in the ocean, to be brought before a paying public. Capture is a secretive and violent procedure, the details of which, the captivity industry is eager to suppress. Families of dolphins are mercilessly chased down in speedboats and surrounded by nets and in the resulting terror and confusion some dolphins may be injured or even killed, as they tangle in the nets, trying to escape. Marine attractions are usually after young, unmarked females (who may still be swimming at their mothers’ sides). Struggling and crying in terror, these dolphins are wrenched from the sea and all they’ve ever known, never to see friends, family or home again. All methods of capturing dolphins are invasive, stressful and potentially lethal and a high number of dolphins die of shock soon after capture.
Furthermore, scientists are realizing that because of the intricate, interdependent social ties in dolphin society, the process of harassing an entire group to remove even one specific individual dolphin from a wild community can have a substantially damaging impact on the survival of the remaining group members, including physiological stress, injury or death of other dolphins.
A: No pen, pool, tank or enclosure can replace the ocean. Dolphins are far-roaming creatures who often travel very far distances at high speeds, and who love to surf. Regardless how big they may seem to us, no enclosure is sufficient or appropriate for dolphins’ needs and natural behaviors. It would be the equivalent of having to live the rest of your life in a broom closet. Ridiculous tricks, bubbly, charismatic trainers, costumes and blaring music are used to distract audiences from contemplating stark, barren enclosures. Unable to roam, dolphins commonly develop aberrant, stress-related behaviors as they endlessly circle or aimlessly float in their under-sized, concrete pools, pens or man-made “lagoons.”
A: YES. For oceanic nomads like dolphins, a life in captivity means unimaginable boredom, cramped, stressful spaces, chlorinated, synthetic salt water, nutritionally inferior dead frozen fish, and in the worst cases, lack of fresh air and sunlight—all of which contribute to the impoverished lives of captive dolphins and whales. Public venues like marine parks are indisputably noisy places. Dolphins are highly sensitive, acoustic creatures—and daily bombarding them with a constant, inescapable assault of human noise constitutes unacceptable cruelty.
Additionally, withholding food is a method often used to coerce dolphins into performing and force them to cooperate with human demands. Captivity reduces normally self-sufficient dolphins to a life of begging for dead fish—stripping them of the hunter’s dignity to chase and choose from an array of fresh prey. Every aspect of the dolphins’ lives is controlled in captivity: when, how much or even if there will be food, light, water, space, companionship, life, death—everything. Their freedom of choice has been stolen.
Loss of family and community in captivity
As highly social animals, everything essential to dolphin well-being is formed and nurtured within their natural communities and close family ties—something that we humans should be able to empathize with. Yet in captivity, even mothers and young are often separated unnaturally—which upon examination seems inexcusably inhumane. No human-imposed social grouping can replace dolphins’ natural society, which operates in a deeply complex, interdependent manner. Wild dolphins choose their companions very carefully, just as we do.
A: Marine parks often say that if captive dolphins are breeding—they must be happy. One would do well to consider the fact that among human beings, children are born even amid the most miserable and adverse conditions. The captivity industry also often implies that if a dolphin is born in captivity rather than captured from the wild, the arguments leveled against captivity no longer apply. The misfortune of being born into a life of oppression and slavery does not exempt someone from deserving freedom and liberty.
A: Marine park staff often speak of relationships between dolphins and trainers formed of “mutual respect and trust”—however, in these synthetic environments, the very notion of what constitutes a relationship is distorted into something based on dominance and submission—exploitation. Humans are the ones who drag the dolphins kicking and screaming from their families; humans incarcerate the dolphins against their will; humans decide when, how much or IF there will be food or companionship—humans are calling the shots. The dolphins have no choice. This is NOT a relationship based on mutual respect or trust—it is an intentional deception.
A: Dolphins have thrived in the worlds oceans for many many millions of years—obviously without any need for human-administered veterinary attention. Marine parks often boast that they provide the best veterinary care available for their dolphins. Naturally—businesses always take action to protect their investments. Yet despite corporate loving care, many captive dolphins still fail to live as long as their counterparts in the wild—as demonstrated by the industry continually capturing more wild dolphins to replace those dying in their pools and pens. Despite veterinary care, captive dolphins die unexpectedly on a regular basis, before problems can be diagnosed or treated and statistics reveal an obvious, unnaturally high mortality rate in captivity. These deaths aren’t considered failures by the industry, but rather as routine operating expenses
Even if all captive conditions were superb and illness and premature deaths were unheard of, when one looks at the quality of incarcerated life, there can really be no comparison between liberty in the ocean and a life behind bars. Longevity and liberty are two very different things!
In modern society, purveyors have learned to cover blatant exploitation with pretensions of education, conservation and science—yet it remains exploitation just the same. Controversy and increasing public and scientific questioning of the supposedly infallible necessity of keeping intelligent and far ranging wild animals like dolphins in captivity is growing. Scientists, government agencies and conservationists are among those evincing increasing concern over the psychological and physiological harm that results from keeping dolphins and whales in captivity.
Never forget that marine attractions exist first and foremost to make their shareholders and executives a healthy profit. Keeping dolphins in captivity is a business that trades in living, feeling, thinking creatures. Compassion, suffering and ethical considerations do not figure in their bottom lines. To the captivity industry, dolphins are commodities to be caught, bought, collected, sold and when they die, replaced. When one “Flipper” or “Shamu” dies, another takes his or her place and name—and the show goes on.
Captivity Fallacy #1. Education:
In some countries, the commercial display of dolphins is legally required to “educate” the public. With this in mind, it comes as little surprise these facilities must loudly declare they do just this. However, there is little objective, peer-reviewed evidence demonstrating the educational value of performing or interactive dolphin displays.
Ripped from their close-knit communities and unable to engage in normal behaviors of traveling, foraging and socializing in their natural habitats, captive dolphins are instead forced to perform silly tricks or tow tourists around, while begging for dead fish—casting grave doubts on any actual “educational” content at these marine attractions.
When millions of people—especially children, flock to cheer and participate in the degradation and suffering of dolphins and whales, this should be cause for great worry, because millions of people are learning the wrong kinds of things from these marine attractions. We learn that “habitat” is not unspoiled wilderness, but concrete and glass enclosures. We learn that dolphins and whales exist for our pleasure and entertainment. We learn that while we come and go, their freedom doesn’t matter. Kept carefully hidden from the public is the reality that captivity destroys the lives of those we cage. Instead we are left with prisoners in parodies of natural habitat, cut off from the interdependent web of life, in a fantasy creation where the illusion of freedom is provided.
Lulled by all the glitz and glamour, people are led away from their own instinctual feelings of revulsion at what is so obviously wrong; led away from empathy for the suffering of these captive dolphins and instead, encouraged to indulge their own pleasure and amusement. Marine parks and dolphin-swim attractions both feed off and encourage public ignorance while desensitizing people to the plight of the dolphins right under their noses. There is no healthy or useful educational value in seeing captive dolphins perform circus tricks in small enclosures—theme parks are about holiday recreation.
Captivity Fallacy #2. Conservation:
Though some of the more opulent marine parks and dolphin-swim attractions try to promote themselves as conservation centers, most claims are at best, highly misleading. There is no objective evidence that people who visit marine parks are better educated about conservation, or more aware of environmental issues, than those who do not. Mere exposure to live captive animals does not instantly translate into heightened ecological awareness or especially positive action. Marine parks try to assure the public that they foster respect for animals and encourage interest in conservation—yet you cannot teach care and respect—while demonstrating such profound disrespect.
Captive dolphins are invariably portrayed as smiling clowns—but reducing wild animals to begging clowns does not inspire respect—rather it breeds a subtle and dangerous kind of contempt. With the focus at marine attractions on performance and entertainment, kids would seem more likely to leave marine parks harboring dreams of becoming dolphin trainers themselves, rather than conservationists. Rather than fostering real learning or caring, marine parks do the opposite—they promote blindness towards circumstances that are inherently cruel and demeaning.
Marine parks often argue that they are involved in something positive by sheltering dolphins from the “rigors of the wild”—as if their natural state were a danger to be avoided and the wild so inhospitable that surely captivity is preferable. This implies wild animals need to be protected from the very surroundings that normally sustain them. Such a distorted and harmful misrepresentation of the natural environment fails to encourage people to respect, care for or protect it—hardly an effective conservation message!
It is not necessary to experience captive animals up close to be inspired to protect them and proof is easy to find:
- No Humpback whales are held captive in concrete pools or pens so that an eager public can get up close—yet they are appreciated and protected—by people who will never even see one.
- Conversely, though tigers and rhinos have been displayed in zoos and circuses for many years, both are on the brink of extinction! Nor did zoos and circuses galvanize public outcry over the killing of elephants for their ivory—rather, concerned environmental organizations rallied to raise public awareness.
- England has held no dolphins in captivity since 1993—over fifteen years—and yet awareness and desire to protect them remains very strong in that country. Clearly the British public doesn’t need captive dolphin attractions in order to foster interest in their care and protection—and there is no reason to think North Americans or anyone else should be any different
Obviously, people can be educated and inspired to support conservation in healthier ways. We don’t need captive, clowning hoop-jumping dolphins in order to encourage youth towards active, useful, responsible marine conservation initiatives.
Far from enhancing conservation, many dolphinariums, marine parks and swim-programs deplete wild dolphin communities through continued captures. This is NOT conservation—but rather crafted rhetoric to promote better business—so paying customers can feel better about what they’re buying into. However, a closer look reveals that far from protecting cetaceans, elements of the captivity industry happily work hand in hand with the same people who KILL dolphins—irrefutably proving that the real motive is profit!
In several areas of Japan where dolphins (rather than an increasing human population, pollution and industrialized fishing methods) are blamed for dwindling fish catches, fishermen retaliate by rounding up groups of dolphins and driving them into shallow bays, where they are brutally massacred. Shockingly, it has been discovered that marine parks and dolphin-swim attractions participate in this bloody carnage! After the terrified dolphins have been rounded up by the fishermen, representatives from marine attractions select the dolphins they want for captivity—leaving the rest to be stabbed to death!
Each dolphin sold to the captivity industry fetches the dolphin-hunters thousands of dollars, which is strong incentive for these fishermen to continue capturing and killing dolphins—thus the captivity industry subsidizes the mass murder of dolphins! Far from demonstrating any true conservation ethic, this cold-blooded wheeling and dealing reveals a revolting lack of concern for dolphin welfare in favor of a purely profit-driven agenda. Marine attraction money creates and fuels incentive to perpetuate the capture and killing of dolphins!
Representatives of the captivity industry have also actively lobbied to prevent the adoption of global measures to regulate the hunting of dolphins—hunts which kill many thousands each year. If implemented, such protective regulations could interfere with or prevent the industry from capturing more wild dolphins. Because of such obstructive actions, dolphins currently receive no global protection, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation of all kinds. Again, rather than promoting true, life-saving conservation—the captivity industry has repeatedly and actively sought to weaken laws which protect dolphins & whales—to better exploit them to their own advantage.
To learn more about the revealing and key aspects of this issue, watch the award winning documentary film THE COVE now on DVD www.thecovemovie.com or visit www.savejapandolphins.org
Captivity Fallacy #3. Research:
Scientific research is sometimes cited as a necessity for keeping dolphins captive. However, much current research performed on captive dolphins has very limited value. Dolphins are unable to demonstrate natural behaviors under captive conditions, while increasing numbers of wild studies involving free-ranging animals provide superior data, pushing the justification for research on captive cetaceans further into serious doubt. Reproductive and dietary information gathered from captives likewise has little bearing or accuracy if applied to free-ranging dolphins, as the artificial lives of captives, and the pressures they respond to, are so profoundly distorted. Much veterinary, anatomical, physiological, pathological and reproductive research is self-serving—utilized by the industry in dealing with its inventory of captives and translating into very little practical use for wild dolphins.
Finally, the quest for scientific discovery must not be allowed to pave over or erase all moral consideration. To court science without ethics or heart is to court the demise of our very humanity.
A: Though we may find it interesting, exciting and pleasurable to get close to dolphins in captive enclosures—this does not erase the suffering endured by these intelligent, sensitive, far-ranging oceanic creatures. The lives and deaths of these poor dolphins are subjugated shamefully for our leisure, pleasure and profit. Charmed by close contact, people return again and again—willfully ignoring the harsh reality of the impoverished existence captive dolphins endure for our weekend delight. We are so accustomed to our established human role—always taking—just because we can. When people pause for a moment of reflection—and take a critical look around—the terrible, indisputable truth is plainly revealed. Marine parks may encourage our selfishness, but a compassionate view reveals that jailing dolphins so we can enjoy their company is simply wrong.
A: The truth is that the public’s infamous love affair with dolphins is largely one-sided. In captivity, the dolphins are involved because they are hungry and because they have no choice. These marine attractions don’t educate—they exploit—both people and dolphins. The popular dream is an illusion—a lucrative lie.
A: Some marine attractions are capitalizing on dolphins-swims for supposedly “therapeutic” purposes. While sharing close company with dolphins is often a wondrous and deeply exhilarating experience, the fact remains: no credible scientific evidence exists to substantiate the claim that spending time in an enclosure with captive dolphins has lasting positive results.
Holding dolphins captive for “therapeutic” purposes is just as harmful and wrong as keeping them captive to swim with regular paying tourists or to amuse crowds at any dolphinarium. There is no need to imprison wildlife to benefit humans. Hydrotherapy or pet therapy involving domesticated animals offers better-proven and much more cost-efficient therapeutic help for those who are ill, without imprisoning dolphins.
A: Most dolphin-swim attractions hold wild-caught dolphins, and in order to supply this rising demand created by tourists for more dolphins to swim with, wild populations are increasingly exploited. It is largely North American and European tourists responsible for this trade in sentient, suffering beings—people who willingly pay a premium both at home and abroad, to force their company on dolphins—and it is they who are responsible for the ever-increasing number of dolphin captures world-wide.
Marine attractions also subject people to mixed messages, the adverse effects of which may radiate far a field. Not only does the public learn little, if anything, about the real lives of dolphins, but they actually go home misinformed, thinking that the tricks they saw are representive of how dolphins behave in the wild. Following the misleading and inappropriate examples set in marine attractions, naïve boaters may attempt to feed, pet or chase wild dolphins—which is illegal in some countries, and can lead to people or dolphins sustaining damage.
A: Advertisements for dolphin-swim-encounters typically come complete with rapturous endorsements from fawning tourists and feature photos of bronzed youngsters grinning and hugging “smiling dolphins,” presenting a powerfully seductive fantasy world. Marine attractions typically present dolphins as firmly and happily under the control of the human trainers, eagerly awaiting our beck and call, and responding with bright and immediate cheer to human commands (though hunger is in reality their prime motivator).
Conditions in captive dolphin-swim attractions are inherently stressful for the dolphins—and potentially dangerous for visitors, as the safety of the participants cannot be assured. Many dolphin-swim attractions experience trouble with adult male dolphins behaving in an aggressive or sexually inappropriate manner with guests. Also, dolphin behaviors that often signal aggressive intent, such as tail slapping or jaw gaping are incorrectly portrayed as playful clowning in captivity—and so are misinterpreted by swimmers. Over the years I have witnessed many tourists injured by captive dolphins because they were unable to identify these warning signs. Swimming with captive dolphins places humans in potential danger and even experienced trainers have been seriously injured by dolphins. No matter how hard marine attractions work to promote a glossy image of happy dolphins eagerly attending to paddling humans, the fact remains that swimmer safety cannot be assured and the risks are very real. Dolphins are not smiling, peaceful pets, but wild, willful, unpredictable, powerful and potentially deadly predators.
A: Meeting wild dolphins in the ocean, where both participants can come and go by choice makes all the difference in the world. Though unscrupulous business entities may capture, package and sell a pathetic facsimile, the real thing can never be bought. Such gifts can only be given—they cannot be taken by force.
However—the lives of real, wild dolphins have little relation to humans, unless imposed. What dolphins find most thrilling, interesting and engaging are each other—not us. This doesn’t mean we may not at times be welcomed with curiosity, or that mutual, profound exchanges don’t happen—but the dolphins’ lives don’t revolve around it. The lives of free-ranging dolphins are full, valid and richly textured without us.
Also, not all dolphins are interested in engaging humans, and they prefer to choose whether or not to interact among swimmers. A recent study found that when given the choice, wild bottlenose dolphins approached swimmers only 34% percent of the time. The rest of the time the dolphins were observed to continue with the activities they had been involved in prior to swimmers entering the water, leading researchers to state that the majority of the time dolphins appear to prefer going about their normal lives. Though close encounters are unarguably touching and wondrous for us, it is often inappropriate and even outright disruptive when humans thoughtlessly crash in on wild dolphins without the appropriate respect or sensitivity.
A: A dizzying variety of tours are available in an expanding number of countries and locations, featuring encounters with wild dolphins. However, certain areas have become over-trafficked—with too many boats trying to get too close—and should be avoided. Strategic land-based watching sites have the lowest human impact on dolphins and whales. It is advised that people seek knowledgeable guides or tour operators who are familiar with the area and its inhabitants, who adopt rules that place the needs of the dolphins first, and who tread as softly and respectfully as possible on the environment and the animals.
Responsible, sustainable tourism—true eco-tourism—requires people approach wild dolphins in a careful, informed and respectful manner. As a general rule, small, quiet groups have the lowest impact and are the least disruptive. Employing a thoughtful, informed and respectful approach only impoves the likelihood of prolonging a close encounter. To reduce disruption experts advise selecting smaller tour vessels with an experienced, naturalist or biologist on board to better interpret dolphin behavior. Experienced, considerate and reputable tour operators who are familiar with an area and its inhabitants will err on the side of caution when approaching dolphins and a good skipper is knowledgeable in maneuvering safely as an accidental encounter with the propeller blades of a boat can leave a dolphin or whale injured or dead. Vessels under sail create far less noise pollution and are much less likely to disrupt or injure dolphins. A number of conservation organizations offer educational opportunities for the public to participate in scientific research while viewing wild dolphins and whales up close, where much may be learned about their lives and behavior at sea, enhancing the experience considerably and making these options among those most highly recommended.
In a world where whales and dolphin remain very much at risk from numerous human practices, eco-tourism that is truly educational and respectful rather than exploitative, appears to encourage increasing empathy toward dolphins and their marine environment, without removing them from their oceanic communities and reducing them to captives. Though the potential for harm should not be ignored, when managed and conducted properly, such wild encounters represent an overall hopeful turn in the human-dolphin relationship.
Essential recommendations when encountering wild dolphins include:
- Never feed wild dolphins.
- Do not approach dolphins too closely in boats—they will come to you, if they want to investigate.
- If dolphins do approach your boat, avoid abrupt changes in speed and direction.
- Do not separate or scatter dolphins, especially mothers and young.
- Do not interrupt or interfere with dolphins that are resting, feeding, mating or fighting.
- Never pursue or chase dolphins, either in boats or by swimming.
- Do NOT grasp, grab or clutch at wild dolphins and never try to impede or restrict a dolphin’s movements in any way!
- Leave the water immediately if dolphins exhibit violent or sexual behavior.
- Do not swim with dolphins if you are feeling ill or recovering from viral or bacterial infection.
- Never dump litter, especially plastic garbage or chemical waste into the water.
A: Share the TRUTH about the suffering dolphins endure in captivity. This cruelty and oppression will not cease until the flow of money from tourists stops. Each person who walks through a marine park’s gates is helping to finance the continued misery and confinement of the dolphins and whales held within—as well as those in the wild who will inevitably replace them when they die.
Captivity, no matter how well intentioned, is no life for a dolphin. Removing a dolphin’s freedom to choose whether or not to engage in human company is not respect, nor is it love. Dolphins are not servile spirits, but sensuous, complex, sometimes violent, willful and wild creatures who do not belong in pens and pools, being forced to share cramped enclosures with starry-eyed humans, jumping through hoops, taking orders from trainers and endlessly towing people around for dead fish.
If you want to help dolphins, please consider joining and supporting a non-profit dolphin protection society—there are some excellent suggestions on this website.
Captive dolphins, like vanishing rain forests and poverty-stricken human beings are victims of greed and ignorance. Injustices and atrocities need to be recognized, addressed and rectified in ALL quarters! We, the everyday people of the developed nations carry enough collective clout, that we should all be making efforts to improve the state of our world, whether helping animals, protesting war, tackling human rights violations, clear-cut logging practices or toxic poisoning of the environment—the list goes on. If each of us can find a way to support restorative efforts, we can help to make the world a better place. Compassion, respect and responsibility towards wildlife, the environment and our fellows are inexorably linked and these efforts translate to a kinder, cleaner, better and happier world for everyone.