Don't Swim with Captive Dolphins

Richard O'Barry, marine mammal specialist at the Earth Island Institute, explains why you need to rethink swimming with captive dolphins on your next holiday

You might have heard of The Cove, a white-knuckle documentary about the annual killing of dolphins in Japan. After all, it won this year's Oscar for Best Documentary.

Besides being a marine mammal specialist at the Earth Island Institute, Richard O'Barry is also the passionate protagonist of the documentary. He trained the five dolphins used in the 1960s television show Flipper.

spoke with O'Barry about dolphins. He explained why swimming with dolphins on your next vacation is something you should seriously rethink:

“Many people going on vacation and enjoying new sights and sounds, are particularly attracted to aquariums featuring captive dolphins performing tricks, and to swim-with-dolphins programs, where you can get in the water and touch a dolphin.

But I hope you will reconsider before you buy a ticket.

In order to know what’s wrong with captivity, you really have to see dolphins in the wild. They swim for about 40 miles each day. They have large extended families.

The dolphin captivity industry—and, make no mistake, it is a very lucrative industry—imprisons dolphins and places them in small concrete tanks or artificial lakes, depriving them of freedom, of their families and, all too often, of their lives.

In many cases today, captive dolphins are coming from horrendous drive fisheries in places like Taiji, Japan and the Solomon Islands. The aquarium staff actually works with local fishermen to pick out the best ‘show-quality’ animals for captivity, while the rest of the dolphins are butchered with unimaginable cruelty, usually for their meat or teeth.
Some swim-with-dolphins programs will claim that their captive dolphins are “rescued” animals from strandings that cannot be released or were in-bred during captivity. In reality, only a fraction of captive dolphins were brought in through these means.

Of course, there are no ‘truth in advertising’ laws in many of the places where dolphin ‘encounters’ are advertised.

There are many fine whale-watching trips one can take by boat or from the shore to see live whales and dolphins in their natural ocean homes, and I encourage you to enjoy them with not-for-profit organizations that seek to study and understand whales and dolphins.

I’ve spent 50 years of my life working with dolphins. I love them as much as anybody. But by buying a ticket, you are inadvertently contributing to cruelty against these gentle and intelligent mammals.”

What do you think about swimming with captive dolphins? Have you taken any really great whale-watching trips? Tell us about it in the comments.



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