Dolphin Defenders – Staying Wild and Free

Dolphins!  One of the best loved marine animals around, a sure hit for kids and grown ups (big kids) alike!  But what’s all this about being careful with dolphin swim experiences?  Here we take a look at some of the issues related to the captive dolphin industry, and what we can do to help.

Our Marine Mammal Cousins

Dolphins are just irresistibly appealing and relatable to us humans!  That big smiley face looks like they’re constantly laughing, and can’t wait to share the joke with us.  Their acrobatic flips and turns, bursting with energy, just invites us into their ocean world to play!  Being super intelligent, lively marine mammals, we feel a sense of connection and kinship with them.  And who doesn’t dream of that one experience to swim with dolphins!  It’s got to feature in lots of bucket lists!  And, there’s lots of venues that appear to service this – with dolphin shows and the chance to swim with tame dolphins.  But here’s the catch – there’s no such thing as a happy, healthy, performing captive dolphin.   

Freediving with wild dolphins in Bimini, Bahamas with Dive Ninja Expeditions & Neal Watsons Bimini Scuba Center
Flipper - The Movie from 1963, the start of public's dolphin fascination


Where did all this dolphin love come from?  Well, the modern captive dolphin entertainment industry really began with Flipper, the movie and TV show in the 1960s.  The show was a huge success, and really brought dolphins, and their huge appeal, to the mass attention of the public.  Suddenly, everyone wanted to hug a dolphin, swim with dolphins, and even have pet dolphins!  This kick started an industry of catching wild dolphins to order, and selling them on to a life on land, entertaining humans.  At that time, you can buy a pet dolphin for $350.    It was cool to own dolphins, swim with them, and train dolphins to perform tricks.  Dolphinariums started popping up to meet this demand.

Captive Life

Looking at this from the point of view of the dolphins however, and things get sad really fast.  Dolphins are highly social, highly intelligent animals, used to roaming the open ocean.  Captive dolphins are ripped away from their families and social structures – causing huge amounts of stress.  Even in the best of facilities, they won’t have access to pools with any meaningful size or depth, for an athletic animal used to covering miles of ocean to hunt and interact with their pod.  Pools in dolphinariums also contain heavily treated water (to make it safe for humans), and are bare of any other natural life or stimulation.  Just think of how frustrated we’ve been, in lockdown in our comfortable, well connected, modern homes during the COVID-19 outbreak.  Now imagine doing this for years, in a small room stripped of any entertainment or means of communication, in a chemically treated environment.  It’s no wonder that captive dolphins suffer from depression and even self harm.  They’re not so different from us after all.  And deserve so much better.

All About The Money

All this is clearly not cool – so why can’t things be made better?  Well, sadly, it’s all about the money.  Public fascination with all things dolphin – from watching orcas perform synchronised tricks, to swimming with captive dolphins, has generated a multi billion dollar industry.  The captive dolphin industry is ridiculously lucrative, with dolphinariums popping up along major tourist destinations and cruise stops, capitalizing on that dream of a once in a lifetime dolphin encounter.  Why can’t they re-invest some of these profits to make conditions better for the dolphins, you might ask?  Well, pools of any significant size are expensive and difficult to maintain, and will take up space that can be used to sell other attractions to generate more profit.  Sadly, dolphins, and our love for them, are being exploited for cold hard cash.

Empty the Tanks

With increasing public awareness and anger with the truth of the captive dolphin industry, dolphinariums have tried to justify their business by pointing out that they generate billions of dollars of tourism revenue, and taxes for the government.  Which may be true, but doesn’t change the fact that dolphins are being unforgivable exploited for profit.  They also state that their work is important to educate the public about dolphins and the need to protect them – without acknowledging that there are other, better ways to do this.  For example, humpback whales are greatly loved, and protected, but there are no humpbacks in captivity.  With exposure through films such as the Academy Award winner The Cove, and Blackfish, it’s getting clearer to the public conscience that captive dolphins are simply not acceptable, and it’s time to Empty the Tanks.  Governments and tour organisations are starting to take note, with Canada banning the captivity of dolphins and whales in 2019, and TripAdvisor refusing to sell tickets to captive wild animal acts.

Freediving with wild dolphins in Bimini, Bahamas with Dive Ninja Expeditions & Neal Watsons Bimini Scuba Center

What Can We Do As Dolphin Lovers

But we still have a long way to go!  Dolphins are still being captured from the wild, and sold on to dolphinariums to entertain us.  As dolphin lovers, the most important thing we can all do is not to buy a ticket to a captive dolphin show!  This includes dolphin “Sanctuaries” that continue to exploit captive dolphins for profit, despite their fancy names – true sanctuaries do not allow shows or paid interactions, as it’s not in the best interest of the recovering dolphins.  Supporting organisations such as The Dolphin Project, Sea Shepherd, Empty the Tanks Mexico, and Ally for Dolphins will help increase the pressure on dolphinariums and governments to end dolphin captivity.  And finally, choosing a responsible ecotourism provider for that magical dolphin encounter will help support and promote genuine wild dolphin encounters – swimming with them in their ocean home – wild and free, as they should be.

Can’t wait to get in the water with wild dolphins?  Come with Team Ninja as we head out to Bimini on a special dolphin expedition!  Contact us today to find out more, or sign up!

Diving in Xcalak Mexico with Dive Ninja Expeditions & Girls That Scuba

Ninja Family Guest Writer:

Sze Wei

Lover of all marine animals big and small – and ok, yes, I like diving a lot!  When not underwater, I can be found in London with my goldfish.
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