Swimming with Dolphins: Green or Not?
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org



When is it not okay to swim with dolphins, and why?

It may seem like a great green activity while on vacation, but in the larger scheme of ocean and animal health, swim-with-dolphin programs are not animal- or eco-friendly.

Swim with the Dolphins (SWTD) programs at resorts and get-aways seems like so much fun, right? How neat it is to be able to get in the water and play with these smart, wonderful mammals! So often, it seems like a great, green activity - after all, you're hopping in a lagoon or well-cared-for tank and hanging out with healthy, loved animals. The United States alone has between 14 and 18 SWTD attractions, and the NMFS estimated that in 1990 over 40,000 people swam with captive dolphins in the US, with the number dramatically increasing over recent years.

Image from GulfWorldMarinePark.com [dolphin exploiters]

But there's a few big problems with these programs that take the green shine right off the activity. If you're thinking of adding swimming with dolphins to your vacation itinerary, check out why you may want to reconsider the idea.

1. Harmful and Traumatic Round-Up Techniques

As shown in the documentary "The Cove," dolphins that end up in SWTD programs are often caught under the most horrifying of circumstances. In Japan, tens of thousands of dolphins are rounded up into a small cove. Trainers come to pick out which dolphins they want for various aquatic centers. The dolphins are then rounded up as the other members of their pod are slaughtered. Not all capture techniques are so abusive, but they are all always traumatic for the dolphins, often causing a fatal condition known as capture stress or capture myopathy. According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, of those dolphins that survive the capture and are brought into captivity, 53% will die within their first 3 months in a tank. Captive breeding programs, on the other hand, avoid the trauma of capture, but often do little to ensure that capture of wild dolphins ends.

2. Unnatural Habitats and Living Situations

Wild dolphins swim upwards of 40 miles a day with their family pods, hunt for their own food, and spend only 20% of their time at the surface of the ocean. On the other hand, captive dolphins swim in circles, are fed fish already caught and killed for them, are no longer part of their family pod - and dolphins are extremely social animals - and spend around 80% of their time at the surface. The environment, no matter how clean, goes against a dolphin's basic instincts and is usually not nearly stimulating enough to keep the animals from suffering stress and boredom.

Additionally, the conditions of aquatic centers where SWTD programs exist are barely regulated in the US, and often not regulated in other countries. From the numbers known, every seven years, at least 50% of all captive dolphins die due to the violence of their capture, intestinal disease, chlorine poisoning and stress-related illness. Even Sea World reports an average of 3 dolphin deaths per year.

3. Ensuring Continued Capture of Wild Dolphins

While some aquatic centers have breeding programs and express the desire to promote dolphin conservation, the fact is dolphins are taken in large numbers from the wild to support SWTD programs. The practice is ultimately inhumane, which is why Brazil, Italy, and the U.K. have banned interactive marine-mammal programs. It may seem like a great green activity while on vacation, but in the larger scheme of ocean and animal health, SWTD programs aren't so eco-friendly.

What You Can Do

  • Write or visit SWTD attractions and express your concerns. There are currently almost 400 bottlenose dolphins in captivity in the United States, with many more in facilities around the world, many of whom are used in breeding programs. If these programs are as successful as captive facilities claim, then capture from the wild can and should be eliminated.
  • Bypass hotels, resorts, and cruise lines that offer SWTD attractions to tourists. Let the facility know that while you would normally have booked your stay with them, you see that they support this un-green activity and are therefore booking elsewhere.
  • Contact your U.S. senators and representative and tell them to support an amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibiting the capture of marine mammals from the wild for public display during the Act's next re-authorization.

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