On: Swimming with Dolphins and Dolphins in Captivity

Hi Guys,

So as I mentioned in my previous blog, I was asked to write a blog for a few different charities, one of them being a dolphin conservation charity. I’m sure many of you have guessed by my incessant posts on social media that I have an enormous passion for emptying the tanks and getting cetacean captivity banned and here’s why.

It must be magical to see such incredible creatures up close, whether you are at a dolphin show or whether you are swimming with them. However looks can be so very deceiving and this is the real sadness behind the “magic”.
Dolphins can swim huge distances in the wild, we are talking 80-100 miles each day. They are hugely social, playful, clever creatures and I’ll expand on why their traits make them completely unsuitable for a life in captivity shortly.

Firstly I want to mention the impact that celebrities have on this. Celebs are great, they can publicise all sorts and have it sweeping the nation in a matter of minutes, but what about when it is something as important as animal welfare? Recently I have seen a surge in the number of celebs that I have seen going to these shows or swimming with dolphins. For the longest time I was absolutely livid each time I saw another person at a dolphin show or swimming with dolphins, and to an extent I still am. The negative publicity is still out there (and as the word is spreading, the more publicity it generates), it is just a matter of looking at it. However now I worry that it is a lack of education and realisation that means people are still wanting to go to these awful places and so that is how I want to make a difference, by educating as many people as poss!

So why is a life in captivity so bad? 

-Well for a start, they live in a swimming pool. In the wild dolphins can swim up to 100 miles a day. In a comparison that makes more sense to us, it would be like us being sat in a big bathtub with another stranger and eating a sandwich a couple of times a day if we allowed people to come in and gorp at us. That alone is pretty unreasonable, I’m sure you’ll agree. In the wild they also spend hours hunting to catch their next meal (so obviously this is a huge source of enrichment taken away from them in captivity, where they get a couple of dead fish chucked at them in return for them waving to their audience). They play games for fun, speak in their own dialects and have names for their family members. I went to a fantastic talk by Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) where they told us dolphins catch puffer fish to get them to release their toxin which gives dolphins a high, which they then share between their entire pod before safely releasing the puffer fish, allowing it to live another day! This is just a tiny number of the incredible, clever things that dolphins get up to in their natural environment.

They’re social. In the wild they travel around in their family pods with their moms, aunties, siblings. In captivity they are snatched from their family and plunged into a pool with strange dolphins from different pods, potentially from different parts of the world (as I mentioned before, dolphins from different areas have different dialects to communicate with each other).

The sounds! Dolphins communicate with a range of different sounds and sound travels differently through water than it does through air. This means that the additional intensified sounds that they would receive from artificial environments in dolphinariums include water pumps, machinery, sounds of wailing spectators, music. All of this must be so stressful (and painful!) for these creatures, especially for those having come from the wild.

Their brains. Dolphins have amazingly developed brains with high amounts of cortical folding (the main bulk of the brain) which means they have a really high processing power. There has been lots of research into their neuroanatomy which suggests that they have an extra bit of their brain which we don’t have that means that they experience grief, love and other emotions at a higher intensity than we humans do. Imagine how we would feel being snatched from our parents or children and put in a pond for life? Aside from this, they are expected to perform the same routine several times a day, every day for their entire life. It is no wonder there have been records of attacks by cetaceans in captivity when they are driven to insanity.

Dolphin suicide. There has been lots of recorded evidence that life in captivity has made dolphins so miserable that they have resorted to injuring themselves be it by banging their heads against the tank wall, or floating at the bottom, or attacking their tank mates. An orca (another of the dolphin family) killed himself by swallowing 80kg of rocks from the bottom of his tank which was discovered on post mortem. So sad!

It has no bearing on conservation whatsoever. I’m sure lots of people will draw comparison to other species in zoos. However the fundamental difference here is that dolphinariums aren’t used to conserve a species, they are used primarily for entertainment and to drive revenue in the most exploitative way possible. Spinning around in circles and doing a pectoral wave to an audience is not conservation, it is degrading. No matter what each place says, it is not a rescue, it is not a rehabilitation and most importantly they do not live longer in captivity than they would in the wild.

I really could go on and on about how amazing dolphins are, and if you have made it this far then thank you so much for taking an interest and caring for this fantastic species. Please make a pledge to #emptythetanks and don’t buy a ticket to see dolphins in captivity or swim with them. Spread the word and help educate our world.

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