Swimming With Captive Dolphins

Swim with Dolphins Captivity Issues Cruise Ships Tourism

The facts about swim with dolphin encounters

Dolphins do not swim with people, “kiss” people or tow people through the water because they like to — they do it because they have to. They are trained to correctly perform these behaviors for if they do not, they will not eat. That is the reality of swim-with-dolphins programs.

Dolphins in swim-with programs are removed from the two most important elements in their lives: their freedom and their family. These are disposable dolphins, subject to a high rate of stress, disease and mortality. Sadly, the animals are merely replaced from places such as Taiji, Japan, Russia or Cuba, and hence the cycle continues.

People see dolphins “smile” and think they are enjoying their human encounters. In reality, this is simply the way their faces are built for swimming through open water. Swim-with dolphins programs are another way dolphins are exploited in captivity.

The dolphin’s smile is nature’s greatest deception.” ~ Ric O’Barry

The Cruise Industry

Despite the ongoing decline in SeaWorld’s attendance and revenues, swim-with-dolphins programs have increased significantly in the past decade, due in large part to cruise ship traffic in the Caribbean and Mexico. Coyly marketed as “once in a lifetime experiences,” swim-with-the-dolphins programs have become a hallmark feature of the vacation experience.

The dolphin encounters are sold directly by cruise companies at the time of booking, or on board prior to reaching ports of call. Special incentives are also offered, enticing potential customers with hard to resist package pricing. At present, there are 33 facilities in Mexico and over 30 in the Caribbean, with more planned for construction.

Where do the dolphins come from?

While aggressive captive breeding programs are common, some dolphins in these programs are the result of wild capture. 28 dolphins captured in a mass drive hunt in the Solomon Islands were transferred in July 2003 to Parque Nizuc Atlantida in Mexico, generating considerable international controversy due to the culling practice. International pressure resulted in the Solomon Islands banning further export of live dolphins. At least 12 of those dolphins died within five years, though some survived less than a year or even a week after their arrival in Mexico. Dolphins from the Taiji drive hunts were sold to Mexico-based Cabo Adventures in 2005. (Source: Ceta-Base.) 

Captivity Conditions

 Swim-with-dolphins (SWD) programs place extraordinary amounts of stress on captive dolphins, who may interact with over 50 tourists a day. They are trained into submission through food deprivation techniques, kept hungry so they will perform on demand. Almost all dolphins must be routinely medicated to combat the physical and psychological stresses placed upon them. As such, many die prematurely due to illness or stress-related disorders.

It is considered the norm for dolphins to be confined in tiny, chlorinated tanks, where they are subject to relentless sun exposure, noise pollution, continuous human interaction and water toxins. Some live in polluted harbor waters, in hastily constructed holding pens, “conveniently” close to cruise ship ports for quick, tourist access. The majority of dolphins who participate in SWD programs clearly show physical indications of overwork such as persistent open wounds and abrasions as a result of the encounters.

Safety Concerns

In addition to the consequences for the dolphins, human guests also face significant and obvious risks. Numerous instances of aggressive physical contact against humans have been documented at SWD facilities and petting pools, as can be found HERE. Inadvertent teasing by guests can quickly lead to a response from these frustrated animals, as can inexperienced handling of the dolphins. The only way to prevent mutual harm is to avoid such encounters by TAKING THE PLEDGE not to support dolphin captivity.

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