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.
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.