Dolphin in captivity.

Marine Animals in Captivity

The Problem 

Tourist attractions, amusement parks like SeaWorld and Miami Seaquarium, and even some hotels offer ‘Swim with Dolphins’ programs where visitors pet captive dolphins in shallow pools or interact with them in deeper water by swimming beside them or being towed around by holding onto the dolphin’s dorsal fin. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not meaningfully regulate these programs. There are few protections for both the dolphins and humans involved. Countless dolphin deaths and human injuries go unreported.

Dolphins can only flourish in their wild ocean home, not in a concrete tank or artificial lagoon that’s two hundred thousand times smaller than their natural habitat.

Statistics of dolphin deaths during capture and confinement prove that dolphins do not belong in captivity. In the wild, dolphins can swim more than 40 miles a day, using echolocation to explore their diverse environment. They form close bonds with members of their pods, and mothers and calves stay together for three to six years depending on the species.  

In contrast, captive dolphins are forced to swim in endless circles in artificial habitats, interact with unfamiliar dolphins and other species, and perform behaviors that are unnatural and, in some cases, painful. Captive dolphins are also exposed to infection, bacteria, and chemicals, and suffer from stress-related illnesses.

Exhibiting Unnatural Behavior 

Examples of abnormal behavior in captive dolphins include:

  • Dolphins poking their head above water. Captive dolphins spend up to 80% of their time at the surface of the water seeking scraps of food and attention. In contrast, dolphins in the wild spend 80% of their time below the surface of the water playing, hunting, and exploring.
  • Beaching themselves so that visitors can pet or kiss them. If left in this position for an extended period, a dolphin’s immense weight on land would slowly crush their internal organs. Captive dolphins have been trained to ignore their natural instincts; wild dolphins never voluntarily beach themselves.
  • Vocalizing for food rewards and nodding their head as if to say “yes” or “no” and offering “handshakes” or waving at the audience with their pectoral fins. Dolphins are trained through food deprivation. When they perform a trick they are rewarded with scraps of fish. If a captive dolphin waves to you, it is because he or she is hungry, plain and simple.
  • Swimming in circles, constantly peering through the fences, or floating listlessly on the surface of the water. These behaviors indicate that the animal is bored and psychologically stressed. Wild dolphins rarely lie still and with the entire ocean at their disposal, they have no need to swim in circles!

Love dolphins? Don’t buy a ticket.

Demand for swimming with dolphin programs leads to more dolphins being captured from the wild.

These programs present themselves as “educational” and “eco-friendly.” They market themselves to people who love dolphins and care about conservation. But there’s no “responsible” way to swim with or pet a captive dolphin. Every program results in more suffering and more dolphins captured from the wild.

Choose responsible dolphin-watching programs, like Wildlife Heritage Areas in places like Santa Barbara, CA, where you can see these amazing animals in the wild where they belong.

The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity

Help Us Shut Down Miami Seaquarium

Send an email to Eduardo Albor, CEO of the Dolphin Company, and urge him to shutter Miami Seaquarium and send its animals to sanctuaries and other venues where they will receive better care.

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