The Truth About ‘Swim with the Dolphins’ Programs

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The Truth About 'Swim with the Dolphins' Programs

With the increasing popularity of the ‘Swim with the Dolphins’ programs has resulted in a large number of dolphinariums to crop up. But the bitter truth remains that these dolphins are treated like nothing more than what they are, a commodity. This AnimalSake article tries to shed light on what really goes on behind the scenes in these programs.

Did You Know

In 2005, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises ended its “dolphin encounter” excursions in the Caribbean citing welfare of the dolphins.

What is it that we love about dolphins? Is it their shiny black eyes and their apparently smiling faces or is it the elegant grace with which these beings just lift their glistening bodies above water and take your breath away? Although these may be some of the reasons we all love dolphins, but the real reason may be because we can relate to them.

Just like us, these beings are very intelligent and communicate with each other with the help of squeaks and clicks. They are extremely social animals who are deeply attached to the members of their pod. Their friendly playfulness reminds you of a playful little child.

Like every individual, dolphins too have distinct personalities. They are smart enough to recognize themselves in the mirror and have the ability to think about their future (sounds familiar to some other animal?) They have the ability to think, deduce, perceive, judge, and make memories, almost as good as us.


With all their cuteness overload, who wouldn’t want to go close to a dolphin, feed it, and touch its glistening belly? To cater to this whim of ours, is a multibillion dollar industry with all its new-age theme-parks and aquariums.

While you have a life-altering moment with the dolphins and comeback home with some happy memories, you remain blissfully unaware of the truth behind these swimming with the dolphins programs. To put things into perspective, let’s take a look at these programs from the point of view of our friendly marine mammals.

Life of the Dolphins in these Programs


According to a report by the World Animal Protection/Humane Society, dolphins in captivity die a premature death. This can be attributed to a number of factors, some of which are discussed here.

Living Conditions

Dolphins raised in captivity are subjected extremely claustrophobic environment. These aquariums or sea pens that they are forced to called homes are only one percent or even less than their natural habitats. Some of the pools that these mammals are confined to are not even big enough for a human to swim in.

The pools are shallow, with an average depth ranging from five feet to ten feet; can this even be compared to the enormousness of the ocean? The result, the dolphins in these pools spend eighty percent of their time on the surface whereas, in the natural habitat a dolphin comes to the surface for only ten percent of the time.


The dolphins in these pools are thus darker than their wild counterparts due to the sunburns they suffer.

According to the interviews of trainers of various sea pens conducted by the sites like The Dodo, the condition in which the dolphins are kept in these sea pens is plain horrifying! The water in these sea pens is extremely polluted and has accumulated a large amount of plastic wastes thanks to their inconsiderate owners.

These plastic debris and sometimes fishing hooks are ingested by the dolphins that may cause severe gastrointestinal problems and even death. What makes things worse is that many of the small aquariums do not even have veterinarian services to cater to the medical needs of these cetaceans.

According to one of the trainers, the chlorine used in cleaning these sea pens was so strong that it would choke him or her. This ultimately ended up making the dolphins blind.


According to the World Animal Protection/Humane Society, the dolphins in captivity are fed nutrient-deficient frozen fish and scraps. These beings are usually trained to learn new tricks by food deprivation.

They are forced to do tricks like beaching themselves; this trick is extremely traumatizing and harmful for the dolphins as their internal organs are slowly being crushed due to their own weight. The only reason they go against their natural instinct and endure this trauma is because they’re hungry and desperate for some food!

Mental Stress

These mammals are forever confined to their claustrophobic environment. It is not unusual for these animals to suffer from a condition of psychosis. They perform almost ten shows or interactions per day, repeating the same moves day in and out. Add to that an almost perpetual food deprivation.

Dolphins are deeply emotional creatures and are extremely attached to their pod members; in such aquariums they are forced to interact with unfamiliar individuals. They are sometimes isolated as a part of their training.

They are sometimes transferred from one aquarium to the other leaving behind their pod members. The stress of this transport can be so much that it can lead to the death of this mammal.

This results in extremely frustrated and sometimes aggressive individuals. Their aggression is usually showcased by blowing water off through their blowholes or knocking food off their trainers’ hands.

Want to know something even more disturbing? According to some trainers, female dolphins prevent their offspring from coming to the surface and suffocate them to death! But how can an intelligent and extremely emotional being kill its own babies?

Maybe, it is because the conditions in which these dolphins live is so harrowing that mothers do not wish to introduce their babies to these conditions.

Where Do The Dolphins Come From?

Most of these dolphins come from a number of captive dolphin breeding programs conducted many dolphinariums. Some of these dolphins are usually so-called rescued dolphins. These “rescued” dolphins are those that are stranded and saved so that they can later be released into the wild, depending on their condition.


Unfortunately, very few of these marine mammals actually leave captivity. The rest just become a part of the captive rehabilitation program forever.

Some of these dolphins are brought to dolphinariums from places like Japan. These animals are brutally hunted and captured from the wild. They are hunted by driving them together by boats and usually getting them to the bay. Here the “pretty ones” are captured and taken to dolphinariums.

Some are killed for their meat, and the rest are set free into the ocean, scarred for life. According to an interview conducted by BlueVoice, an organization fighting to prevent hunting of dolphins, the greatest contributing factor in the hunting of these dolphins is the ever-increasing demand for dolphins in aquariums.

We like to believe that we have evolved as a more humane and tolerant society. But we hope the next time you buy a ticket to a program like this, you find yourself wondering whether their lives are more important than our entertainment or so-called educational experience.

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