These Are the 10 Worst Tanks for Whales and Dolphins

Every year, In Defense of Animals (IDA) releases a top ten list of the worst zoos for elephants in an effort to raise awareness about the problems with captivity for elephants. Now, for the first time ever, it’s doing the same for whales and dolphins.

This week, IDA released a list of the Ten Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales in North America in the hope that it will help raise more awareness about the inherent cruelty involved in keeping cetaceans in captivity, and how doing so is really more about profiting off their exploitation than it is about education and conservation.

According to IDA, the top ten were selected by multiple cetacean experts and scientists from over 60 facilities from southern Canada to Mexico where almost 1,000 whales and dolphins are held captive for public display.

While some facilities continue to argue that they provide a far safer environment than the ocean, their residents still suffer from the effects of confinement, injuries, disease and chronic health issues, bullying, broken bonds, loss, isolation, unnatural diets and premature deaths.

“Beneath the glitz, glamour, and dolphins’ permanently fixed ‘smiles’ is a world of pain and suffering in these brilliant and complex mammals of the sea,” said Toni Frohoff, Ph.D., Cetacean Scientist for IDA.  “Captivity deprives dolphins and whales of the lives they’ve adapted to live for millions of years in the wild, and steal from them what we – and likely they – value most; freedom and family.”

While animal advocates continue to call on facilities around the world to empty their tanks, this list does include an Honorable Mention that goes to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland for its recent announcement that it will be the very first to retire its eight dolphin residents to a sea sanctuary.

The question now is whether or not the following facilities will do the same, or continue to cling to the delusion that we need captive populations of whales and dolphins.

The following places gain the dishonor of making the hall of shame. To read more about the factors involved in ranking, visit In Defense of Animals.

1. SeaWorld, San Antonio, Texas; San Diego, California; Orlando, Florida

SeaWorld San Diego March 2016 1 courtesy In Defense of AnimalsCredit: In Defense of Animals

SeaWorld recently ended its breeding program for orcas, which had already been shut down by the California Coastal Commission, but once that happened it quickly ditched its plans to expand its facility in California to give orcas more space. The move proved what many had suspected; its true motive was only to make room to breed yet more orcas.

While the plight of orcas takes a lot of the spotlight when it comes to SeaWorld, the positive changes it has made for them in the face of public pressure are being negated by its growing death toll and continued exploitation of dolphins and belugas. Even more concerns have been raised about its intent to start a swim-with-dolphins program at its facility in Texas, which is not good for dolphins, or the safety of its visitors.

2. Marineland, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Gia at Marineland 2015 courtesy Last Chance for AnimalsCredit: Last Chance for Animals/In Defense of Animals

Marineland has been the center of controversy and the subject of investigations in recent years over its substandard care of the marine mammals it houses. It’s also come under fire for its treatment of Kiska, who is the only orca in Canada. She has managed to survive the loss of 17 other orcas there, and all five of her own calves who all died by the time they were six, but her life there has clearly taken a physical and psychological toll on her, and she continues to slowly deteriorate.  Unfortunately, she’s not the only one suffering there as this and other investigations have shown the dolphins and belugas at Marineland also show signs of poor care.

3. Puerto Aventuras Dolphin Discovery, Mayan Rivera, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Chaak at Puerto Aventuras 2016 courtesy Semillas de Consciencia and Tribe of GaiaCredit: Semillas de Consciencia/In Defense of Animals

Puerto Aventuras Dolphin Discovery draws tourists in with the opportunity to swim with dolphins and other marine mammals at its beautiful facility, but IDA found that what visitors really get is a chance to get into polluted water with a bunch of sick and stressed out dolphins who have been doomed to a lifetime of being forced to perform tricks.

4. Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia

Georgia Aquarium belugas courtesy Georgia Animal Rights and Protection 2Credit: Georgia Animal Rights and Protection/In Defense of Animals

The Georgia Aquarium makes the list for its shameless attempts to import wild-caught belugas from Russia, despite the fact that its belugas keep dying at a horrifying rate. It has been dubbed the “dying pool” by IDA. Not only have its efforts harmed wild belugas in need of protection, it has continued to trade them and dolphins like cards with little regard for their welfare, and also owns a facility in Florida that allows guests to swim with dolphins.

5. Miami Seaquarium, Miami, Florida

Lolita at Miami Seaquarium courtesy In Defense of Animals and Paul Derdzinski 1Credit: Paul Derdzinski/In Defense of Animals

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has heard the name Lolita that the Miami Seaquarium is making an appearance here. Lolita was torn from her family off the coast of Washington in the 1970s, and has remained in the smallest and oldest tank in North America for more than 40 years.

Despite the fact that she has been granted endangered status, and there is an extensive retirement plan in place ready and waiting for her, the aquarium has stubbornly refused to consider the option that would reunite her with her family, and her mother who is believed to still be alive. Still, her advocates are continuing the battle to return her to her home waters where she belongs.

6. Six Flags Mexico Dolphin Discovery, Mexico City, Mexico

Six Flags Mexico courtesy Martin Lewison 1Credit: Martin Lewison/In Defense of Animals

Six Flags Mexico, which housed Keiko before his release, made the list for its poor treatment of the dolphins it continues to use to perform circus-style tricks, and to interact with visitors who participate in its swim-with program. IDA points out that swimming with captive-born dolphins might seem preferable to swimming with wild-caught dolphins, but those bred in captivity suffer the fate of being torn from their mothers too soon, and that studies have shown they are actually likely to be more aggressive towards humans.

7. Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, Gulfport, Mississippi

IMMS Moby Solangi courtesy The Mississippi Press and Harlan KirganCredit: The Missippi Press/Harlan Kirgan/In Defense of Animals

The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies sounds like it should support some serious scientific efforts to learn about cetaceans, but it’s really just another venue that uses its dolphin prisoners to entertain visitors, and swim with guests who want to pay more for the experience. Worse is that the city is considering proposals that would not only expand this facility, but create an entirely new one.

8. Mirage Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada

Dolphin paints at Mirage Hotel courtesy Free the Mohave DolphinsCredit: Free the Mojave Dolphins/In Defense of Animals

The Mirage Hotel and Casino has been under fire for years because if there’s anything that doesn’t belong on the Vegas strip, it’s dolphins. Unfortunately, the facility has continued to keep them there and is now home to nine bottlenose dolphins. It’s current residents suffer from a chronic skin disease, and are illegally denied adequate protection from the desert sun, while the facility continues to mislead the public about dolphin behavior. The growing death toll has also gotten it dubbed the ‘dolphin death pool.’

9. Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver Aquarium courtesy No Whales In Captivity 1Credit: No Whales in Captivity/In Defense of Animals

Despite being responsible for what IDA calls “some of the most objectionable treatment of beluga whales in North America,” the Vancouver Aquarium has continued to support their captivity, along with breeding and loan agreements between various facilities, including the Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld parks.  Unfortunately for the aquarium, more people are being made aware of its mistreatment of belugas, and the reality of what it’s doing, versus what it says it’s doing, became the subject of a recent documentary exposing just how badly it’s deceiving the public.

10. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois

Shedd Aquarium courtesy In Defense of Animals and Robert Grillo 1Credit: Robert Grillo/In Defense of Animals

Despite what we know about the tight bonds beluga whales form with each other, the Shedd Aquarium apparently thinks it’s more important to keep tearing them apart, and moving them around between facilities. Had the Georgia Aquarium been successful in its attempt to import wild-caught belugas, some of them would have wound up at Shedd, where they would have spent their lives in tanks entertaining guests.

Dishonorable Mention, Dolphinaris near Scottsdale, Arizona

Dolphinaris courtesy David Wallace and The Republic 1Credit: David Wallace/The Republic/In Defense of Animals

It’s pretty bad when a facility that isn’t even built yet makes it onto a list of the worst ones already out there, but Dolphinaris, which is under construction in Arizona, is already that terrible. Despite growing public opposition, the facility is expected to open later this year, and will hold 8 to 12 dolphins who will be used in swim-with programs, but no one knows yet where they will come from.

“These ten aquariums really plumb the depths in their exploitation of intelligent and sensitive animals,” said IDA’s President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “Even with the most modern technology, veterinary care, and infrastructure, cetaceans still suffer intensely in captivity and exhibit surprisingly high mortality rates. Please help protect dolphins and whales in the wild where they belong, by pledging to never visit facilities that imprison them.”

Hopefully this list highlighting some of the worst things being done to these highly intelligent, social and far-ranging species will help change more minds about supporting facilities that continue to hold them prisoner.

For more details about problems with these facilities, check out the full Ten Worst Aquariums for Whales and Dolphins.

To speak out against the Dolphinaris, add your name to this Care2 petition.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Peggy B
Peggy B1 years ago


John B
John B2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Lena Olsen
Lena Olsen2 years ago

Empty the tanks!

Janet B
Janet B2 years ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Graham P.
Graham P2 years ago

This top ten is just North America. Imagine the rest of the World!!!

Ruth S.
Ruth S2 years ago


Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Time to shut thjem all down.

Cathy B.
Cathy B2 years ago

Name and shame.. boycott! Thank you!

Janis K.
Janis K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.