Until I read Tom Regan’s book, Empty Cages, I never really thought about dolphins in captivity. I mean, dolphins are beautiful animals, and watching them is mesmerizing. Though I can’t remember a time I’ve paid to go to a show involving dolphins, I know I’ve seen and been amazed by them on TV on a number of occasions. Reading that book, however, opened my eyes to what marine parks across the world don’t want us to know: dolphins are incredibly unhappy in captivity. Some facts:
- Dolphins are incredibly intelligent. They have unique voices and communicate with each other frequently. They have been known to use tools and to teach their offspring to use tools.
- Wild dolphins can swim 40 to 100 miles per day – in pools they go around in circles.
- Many marine parks subject their mammals to hunger so they will perform for their food. Jumping through hoops, tail-walking and playing ball are trained behaviors that do not occur in the wild. Dolphins don’t perform for the love of performing or because they want to please humans – they perform because they are hungry.
- The dolphins you see at marine parks were probably captured in the wild. They were taken from their families, to whom they were undoubtedly very strongly attached. Their strong bonds have been documented to lead them to stay with injured or ill individuals, even actively helping them to breathe by bringing them to the surface if needed.
- Every seven years, half of all dolphins in captivity die from capture shock, pneumonia, intestinal disease, ulcers, chlorine poisoning, and other stress-related illnesses. To the captive dolphin industry, these facts are accepted as routine operating expenses.
- The average life span of a dolphin in the wild is 45 years; yet half of all captured dolphins die within their first two years of captivity. The survivors last an average of only 5 years in captivity. In addition, 53% of dolphins die within 90 days of capture.
Like other animals, dolphins rely heavily on their families (“pods”). They get love, companionship and a sense of safety from being together. Obviously once they are stolen from their pods to become entertainment for humans, they lose this vital emotional support. It is understandable then that so many of them die — they literally die from heart break.
Dophin Care UK sums it up nicely, I think:
The tragedy of dolphin captivity can be seen between the shows. When the music stops and the cheerful crowds go home, the dolphins resume to lying listlessly on the surface of the water, starring into the barren concrete wall of their tank. There is nothing else for them to do. This is where their journey ends.
How depressing–I can’t imagine how lonely and bored they must feel. I am glad there are groups both in the US and abroad that are doing everything they can to stop the imprisonment of dolphins. In the meantime, please don’t go to these marine parks – you’ll be supporting a cruel, horrible industry and all for what? Just a little entertainment? It’s just not worth it.