Dolphins don’t express emotions with their facial muscles. Their mouth is just shaped in a way that we humans misinterpret as a smile. Because they always seem to be smiling, visitors to marine parks and dolphinariums often assume that dolphins kept in captivity are having a great time performing tricks and flips, splashing and jumping around their tank. But captive dolphins aren’t smiling and most people don’t see the sad truth behind that smiley grin.
Captive dolphins are abducted dolphins – Most captive dolphins nowadays are born and bred in captivity, but many are still taken out of the wild. Dolphins are highly intelligent social creatures that live in pods, forming close bonds with family members. For the sake of entertainment dolphins are being ripped from their natural ocean environments, snatched away from their family and pod mates, held in nets, carried in trucks, hoisted into planes and flown for hours.
Captivity supports dolphin slaughter – In order to sustain the captive population, massive hunts are conducted each year in various places around the world (e.g. The annual Taiji dolphin slaughter, highlighted in award-winning documentary “The Cove” in Japan). It is estimated that more than 23,000 dolphins are slaugthered every year. All dolphinariums indirectly support dolphin slaughter by keeping the demand for captive dolphins alive. Most people ignore that.
Dolphin captivity is ethically wrong – Dolphins in the wild are very curious animals and live in a world full of sounds, sights, movement, colour, varying landscapes and changing currents. In captivity, the dolphins imprisoned suffer from boredom, inadequate exercise, insufficient food variety, and bad food, especially when the facilities are poor. Some facilities even starve dolphins to train them to better perform.
Dolphin captivity sends the wrong message – One may argue that dolphins in captivity provide an educational experience; however, when kids go to dolphinariums, they get a man-made, counterfeit impression of dolphins. Ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau said: “No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.”
Dolphin captivity is cruel – Given the findings about dolphin intelligence, it is cruel to keep them in captivity. A study found that dolphins in captivity have a death rate of 5.6-7.4% compared with 3.9% in the wild.
Our knowledge about dolphins mainly come from studies of animals in captivity. But some scientists are fighting to keep all studies in the wild with animals that “decide” to work with them, an effort that was recently successful in showing how dolphin mothers teach their babies to hunt.
It seems the more we study dolphins, the more human-like we find them to be and the more trouble we have with the idea of keeping them in captivity and so it should be. I wish more people could get past the smile and see the sad truth behind dolphin captivity and how dolphins are suffering for the sake of entertainment and research.