Swimming With Dolphin Progams — Bad Idea

The Alarming Truth About “Swim with the Dolphins” Programs

October 14, 2013
By Dr. Becker

Story at-a-glance

  • From the outside looking in, swim-with-the-dolphin (SWTD) programs appear to be a fun, safe opportunity for people to interact with one of the most appealing animals on the planet, the dolphin.
  • Upon closer inspection, however, like so many wild animal attractions designed by humans for humans, SWTD programs are bad news for dolphins (and they’re not all that safe for people, either). Dolphins are uniquely unsuited to captivity for a variety of reasons including their social structure and natural drive to swim long distances, dive down hundreds of feet, and spend most of their time underwater.
  • SWTD attractions in countries outside the U.S. pose an even bigger problem due to lack of regulation and poor conditions. Abuses include dolphins kept in small pools surrounded by jagged, rusty fences or near sewage outfalls, diets of rotten fish, disease, and starvation.
  • Wild SWTD programs are also a bad idea. Studies show that the presence of tourist boats and swimmers among wild dolphin populations is incredibly stressful for the animals, preventing them from resting, feeding, and caring for their young.
  • If you’re interested in the welfare of dolphins and want to help, avoid SWTD programs, and also consider avoiding resorts, cruise lines and other businesses that promote the exploitation of dolphins for entertainment purposes.

By Dr. Becker

In recent years, “swim-with-the-dolphin” adventures have become increasingly popular with resort-goers and vacationers visiting tropical ports aboard cruise ships.

If you don’t think too deeply about it, a swim-with-the-dolphin (SWTD) experience may seem like a unique, harmless way to get an up-close look at some of the world’s most intelligent, fun-loving sea mammals.

But what many people don’t know or haven’t considered is that most attractions designed to expose humans to wild creatures don’t enhance the lives of the animals involved. Sadly, this includes the SWTD industry. And not only are these programs bad for dolphins, they aren’t entirely safe for people, either.

Dolphins Are Exceptionally Incompatible with Captive Environments

Dolphins have evolved to live and thrive as wild sea mammals — not within the confines of an exhibition tank or a sea pen built into an artificial lagoon.

Dolphins in the wild live in large groups called pods, often in close family units. Social bonds are meaningful and long lasting — sometimes for a lifetime. Captive dolphins, on the other hand, spend their lives interacting with a handful of unfamiliar dolphins that appear and disappear at the whim of the humans running the show.

Wild dolphins often travel long distances each day. They may swim in a straight line for a hundred miles, move along a coastline for several miles and then swim back to their starting point, or they may spend several hours or days in a certain spot. Dolphins living in captivity swim in a circle around a tank or within the small confines of some other artificial habitat. Caged dolphins are often seen swimming around and around in their tanks, peering through the glass or other barricade, or floating listlessly on the water’s surface. These behaviors indicate boredom and psychological stress.

In the ocean, dolphins can dive down several hundred feet and can remain underwater for 15 minutes or more. They spend only a small amount of time – 10 to 20 percent – on the surface. Captive dolphins, sadly, spend up to 80 percent of their time at the surface of the water waiting for food or attention.

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS):

“The sea is to dolphins much as the air is to birds—it is a three-dimensional environment, where they can move up and down and side to side. But dolphins don’t stop to perch. They never come to shore. Dolphins are always swimming, even when they “sleep.” They are always aware, and always moving.

Understanding this, it is difficult to imagine the tragedy of life in captivity for these ocean creatures.”

Imprisoning Wildlife for the ‘Benefit’ of Humans

There are from 14 to 18 swim-with-the-dolphin attractions in the U.S. The marketing of these programs promotes the experience as “eco-friendly” and “educational.”

There are also so-called “dolphin-assisted therapy” programs for children and adults with disorders like Down’s syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, head and spinal injuries, or cancer. In fact, there is no scientific data to indicate that interacting with dolphins has any greater therapeutic benefit than programs involving dogs, horses, or other domesticated animals. As the HSUS accurately points out, “There is no need to imprison wildlife to benefit humans.”

Swim-with-the-dolphins operations in other countries pose an even bigger problem due to lack of regulation and poor conditions. Abuses cited by the HSUS include overworked pregnant female dolphins; dolphins kept in small pools surrounded by jagged, rusty fences or near sewage outfalls; diets of rotten fish; disease; and starvation.

Most SWTD programs outside the U.S. capture their dolphins from the wild. Not only is this practice extremely traumatic for wild dolphins, often resulting in a life-threatening condition known as capture stress or capture myopathy, it can also have a negative impact on the pods from which the dolphins are taken.

SWTD Programs Pose Health Risks to Both Humans and Dolphins

Some captive dolphins will attempt to assimilate to their environment by looking to humans to take on the roles normally filled by other dolphins in the pod. Some of the behaviors noted include submission or sexual aggression around humans, as well as agitation and aggressive behavior resulting from the stress of forced interaction.

These behaviors can result in serious danger to swimmers, and in fact, SWTD programs have reported injuries to humans including tooth rakes, lacerations, broken bones, internal injuries and shock.

For the dolphins, unnatural exposure to people can result in human bacterial and viral infections, and stress-related conditions like ulcers.

Swimming with Wild Dolphins Is Also a Bad Idea

A study conducted in 2010 of bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Tanzania1 found that SWTD programs in the wild are also highly traumatic for the dolphins, preventing them from resting, feeding, and caring for their young. Tourists swimming very close and trying to touch the dolphins proved incredibly stressful for the animals.

to read more, go to:    healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2013/10/14/swimming-with-dolphins.aspx?e_cid=20131014Z1_PetsNL_art_3&utm_source=petnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art3&utm_campaign=20131014Z1