I love dolphins. When I was a child, I loved to visit Sea World – particularly the dolphin petting pool where I could touch the beautiful creatures, if only for a moment. I imagined becoming a marine biologist (not for my love of science, but as a way to spend my life with dolphins), and more importantly, so I could swim with dolphins. When I was in middle school, I found out that tuna fishing killed dolphins, and I stopped eating tuna until the introduction of dolphin-safe tuna. So, when I had the chance to go swimming with dolphins for the first time a few years ago, I was ecstatic. It turned out that my childhood dream of a dolphin encounter was still alive and strong.
I took a trip to Cancun, and a visit to Dolphin Discovery for a dolphin swim was on the top of my list. I chose the “royal swim” dolphin experience, which included two dolphins and the “foot push” so I could surf two dolphin noses across the water. I’m not going to lie, it was super fun. I did wonder about the conditions for the dolphins, but it seemed pretty good to me at the time because they were not confined in swimming pools, but rather swimming in a contained section of the Caribbean right off the coast of Isla Mujeres. Then I watched The Cove documentary and my perspective on my dolphin experience changed.
I thought The Cove movie was about the unnecessary killing of dolphins in Japan and a group trying to save Japan dolphins, but it was also about the conditions of dolphins all around the world, including the cruelty of dolphin parks. I was shocked and saddened by what I learned, and filled with regret for having gone on my dolphin swim. As much fun as I had during my dolphin experience in Cancun, I vowed to never visit dolphin parks again in the future.
There are more than 200 captive dolphin exhibits in over 60 countries across the globe. Captive dolphins experience severe trauma, stress, boredom, claustrophobia, sickness, insanity and early death. They are unable to hunt or behave naturally, are confined to areas much smaller than what is healthy for their species, and some captive dolphins commit suicide. The capture and transport of dolphins results in extreme physical pain and emotional trauma as well. 30-80% of dolphins die while being captured, and those that survive capture often don’t survive being transported to dolphin parks and aquariums. Their bodies have not adapted to air temperatures or land gravity, and as a result, they can overheat quickly, and the sudden pressure of their body weight over their internal organs can cause severe pain, cramps and even paralysis that can lead to drowning once they are delivered to a new water tank because they are unable to move.
One of the two dolphins at my dolphin swim kept swimming away and didn’t want to listen to the trainer. At the time, I thought her behavior was evidence of her personality and individuality, but in retrospect, I now think that she was revolting against her capture and her cruel conditions. Ultimately she participated, but you could tell she was reluctant to obey. Knowing what I know now, I have a very different perspective on my dolphin experience. In the photos, you can probably tell I was having a good time, and the dolphins probably look happy as well, but they most likely are miserable. Dolphins are extremely intelligent, and forcing them into captivity can literally make them go mad. Dolphins should live in the wild, not in captivity. There is no dolphin park or aquarium that is suitable for these magnificent creatures.
“No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.” – Jacques Cousteau
I am human. Like everyone, I have made choices that in hindsight I realize were the wrong thing to do. The good news is that we can learn from our mistakes, and the more we learn, the better choices we can make in the future. Ric O’Berry is a good example of this. He captured and trained the five dolphins that were a part of the Flipper television show. He believes that Flipper was largely responsible for the dolphin craze and the popularity of dolphin shows and dolphin parks. He made the switch from being a dolphin trainer to actively promoting dolphin rescue and combating dolphin captivity when one of his dolphins committed suicide in his arms. You can support his cause and help promote dolphin rescue. Visit http://savejapandolphins.org/ for more information.
Dolphin parks are big business. They are extremely lucrative because of people like me who are willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for a dolphin experience. The good news is, there are things we can do to help put a stop to dolphin captivity.
What can you do to help save dolphins?
- Do not buy tickets to visit dolphin parks or aquariums that have dolphins in captivity. If there’s no demand, these types of parks will not be able to survive.
- Learn more. Watch The Cove movie by Ric O’Barry and visit his website http://savejapandolphins.org/.
- Sign a petition to Stop Dolphin Abuse by Stopping Swim with Dolphins Programs
- Spread the word. Tell your family and friends not to support animal cruelty and dolphin captivity.