5 Great Reasons to End Dolphin Captivity

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on September 22, 2015.

Whale and dolphin advocates have been fighting against captivity for a long time. Since the documentary Blackfish started making waves, the plight of captive cetaceans has reached a much wider audience — and has forced us to take a hard look at whether or not this practice is something we should be supporting.

In a series of studies, Dr. Joan Gonzalvo, who has been researching dolphins in the wild for more than 15 years, examines some of the reasons why captivity needs to end – and dispels some of the myths the industry uses to keep people coming back.

Gonzalvo’s most recent paper, released by the Born Free Foundation and the Italian animal protection organization, Lega Anti Vivisezione, challenges the captivity industry and highlights five of of the main reasons why we shouldn’t keep dolphins in tanks:

  • They are intelligent
  • They are social beings
  • They are far-ranging predators
  • They are psychologically and emotionally sensitive
  • Captivity does not support education or conservation

Their intelligence, which Dr. Gonzalvo describes as on par with great apes and human toddlers, might be what draws us to dolphins — but it also means the barren conditions that we keep them in can cause these marine mammals tremendous suffering.

In the wild, dolphins live in complex cultures where they can explore, hunt, communicate, grieve losses and make choices. In captivity, they are denied the opportunity to perform any of those behaviors. Captive dolphins are left without the ability to choose or stay with their friends, or escape bullying. And artificial pools can never come close to simulating their natural environment.

Possibly one of the most important points made is that captivity does not support education or conservation – which is one of the main arguments the industry uses to keep people coming back. Supporters say that we need to keep cetaceans in captivity because it makes them accessible to the public and offers educational opportunities, but critics continue to argue that there’s nothing educational about dolphin shows — and keeping marine mammals captive isn’t doing anything for conservation.

In a review of dolphin shows, Dr. Gonzalvo found only 10 percent of the performances he examined included anything educational about dolphin behavior, biology or their natural environment. He explains:

The main purpose of these performances is to display dolphins for human entertainment and amusement, rather than to convey any information on the real nature of these fascinating sea creatures, while obscuring the cruelty of the obvious fact that the “performers” are captive animals exhibited for the ultimate purpose of making money.

Worse, Dr. Gonzalvo adds that the way we use dolphins as performers for entertainment creates the perception that dolphins are friendly, causing people to unwittingly harass them in the wild.

Then there’s the captivity industry’s link to violent and heartbreaking captures still taking place today. This practice certainly does nothing for the plight of wild dolphins, or the health of the oceans.

Dr. Gonzalvo states:

I invite those considering visiting a dolphinarium with their children to think twice about the message we want to give to future generations. Do we have any right to hold a highly evolved, intelligent, and sensitive animal captive, to force it to conduct a rather clownish behavior by performing tricks and stunts for our entertainment? If that is the case, we should seriously review our concept of what is entertaining and the kind of relationship that we want to have with nature. Let’s make people conscious about what is hidden behind the frozen smile of a captive dolphin.

While many organizations are moving to end the exploitation of these species, there are still some who are willing to put profits over animal welfare by trying to expanding dolphin parks.

For more information on how to help captive and wild dolphins, check out organizations including Dolphinaria Free Europe, the Dolphin Project and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

318 comments

joan silaco
joan silaco5 months ago

TYFS

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KimJ M
KimJ M5 months ago

tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M5 months ago

tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M5 months ago

tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M5 months ago

tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M5 months ago

tfs

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Judy t
Judy t5 months ago

There are more than just 5 great reasons to end dolphin captivity. It is all wrong on so many levels to hold them in captivity forcing them to do tricks for food living in fish bowl conditions. Can't nothing compare to living free in the ocean with their family pod.

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Dana W
Dana W6 months ago

Thank you

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Georgina M
Georgina Elizab M6 months ago

They belong in the OCEAN nowhere else

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Leo Custer
Leo C6 months ago

thank you for posting!

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