10 reasons why we don’t swim with dolphins in captivity

Swim with dolphins

Wild Dolphins in Donegal, Ireland

Some of the most memorable experiences we have had on our travels involve animals. From snorkelling with whales sharks in Donsol, The Philippines to sitting with orangutans in Sumatra, Indonesia. They were all magical moments with the one common thread: All of the animals were in their own natural habitat, with us observing from a distance.

Recently, in the travel blogging community there has been a huge debate going on about a conference that most of us attend. Before the conference tours are offered to bloggers by the tourism board to promote what’s on offer in the area. One of these tours involves swimming with captive dolphins. This caused a huge row between many bloggers and the conference organisers. As the debate raged, I noticed that a few of the bloggers had no idea why it’s harmful to swim with captive dolphins. I thought to myself, if seasoned travellers don’t know the facts, the chances are that there are many other people who are in the same boat. I remember Karen being horrified that she had swam with dolphins when she was a young girl, not realising the harm she was doing at the time.

So I wanted to share 10 reasons why we don’t swim with dolphins in captivity.

Swim with Dolphins

Dolphins saying hello in Donegal, Ireland

10 reasons why we don’t swim with dolphins in captivity

1) Many Dolphins die prematurely in captivity and there is a much higher rate of infant mortality. I don’t know about you, but the idea of baby dolphins dying for my so-called entertainment horrifies me.

2) Dolphins love to hunt, roam, play and communicate in the wild. When held in captivity they can’t do these activities. Imagine somebody taking away all your freedom and then making you “perform”. Here’s a video we found showing dolphins surfing the waves just for the fun of it.

3) Dolphins to not take well to being held in captivity. Separated from their family, dolphins start to behave abnormally.

4) Close contact to people can lead to injury and disease for the dolphins.

5) Dolphins that are kept in penned off areas in the ocean suffer during bad weather or very hot sunny weather. Sometimes the water quality is very poor but they can not escape to safer, cleaner waters.

6) Have you ever thought how the dolphins end up at these resorts and aquariums? The process of capturing wild dolphins can lead to injuries and deaths. Once a dolphin is taken, the remaining family and pod are also disrupted.

7) Dolphins are wild animals which means they are unpredictable. Being in close proximity to a captive dolphin can lead to injury to people. Dolphins also carry disease that could potentially be harmful to humans.

8) Orcas (which are part of the dolphin family) in captivity suffer from stress, become aggressive and often chew the bars at the side of their small tanks.

9) Over 90% of Seaworld’s Orcas have not survived past 25 years. In the wild, a female orca can live up to 80-90 years.

10) Captive Orcas are trained to perform tricks for food, day after day, instead of behaving naturally.

Swim with dolphins

What you can do:

1) Seeing dolphins in the wild is a memorable experience. We have been lucky enough to see Dolphins in Ireland, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia. These animals are naturally inquisitive and will come very close to the shore or boat. Just watch the video below to see what I mean:

2) Don’t visit resorts, aquariums, zoos or other attractions that have captive dolphins or other cetaceans, or offer “dolphin shows”. 

3) Avoid tour operators that offer swimming with dolphins activities.

4) Visit Right Tourism to see a guide on making animal friendly choices on holiday.

5) Book with a reputable company like Wildlife Worldwide to see animals in their natural habitat.

Have you swam with dolphins and have felt concerned about their plight? Or have you been on a trip with a company that does it the right way? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Paul Farrugia

Paul Farrugia is a an avid traveller and blogger. When he is not travelling he likes to spend his free time reading, going to festivals and sitting down enjoying a nice glass of red! If you would like to reach him send him an e-mail to [email protected]

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  1. says

    Excellent article. I’m so happy to discover your blog. People and tourists need to be more aware that their entertainment has consequences on animals.

  2. says

    I consider myself an animal lover and tend to agree with you about animals that are taken from the wild, placed in captivity, and forced to “perform”. However, boycotting zoos and aquariums is not the answer. Many places have captive dolphins because they were either bred in captivity (I know, still doesn’t make it right, but after generations they can’t return to the wild), or they were injured in the wild and are either in the process of or are unable to be rehabilitated to be returned to the wild and would have otherwise died. Either way, it’s important to do your research and find out whether a facility is strictly for entertainment or part of a conservation effort.
    Mags recently posted…Orlando’s Margaritafest 5My Profile

  3. says

    Love this post, Paul, – as you can imagine, since I was lucky enough to share that experience in Donegal! Living in the Canary Islands, the whales and dolphins here are so much a part of the island community! I only have to take the ferry to another island to see them around the boat. The awe never wears off. Just before Donegal I did a similar trip in Baltimore, and I was hanging over the side, like everyone else, when I realized that most of the folk on the trip hadn’t had this sort of experience before, so I put the camera away, and watched their faces as much as I watched the dolphins. It was telling, they shone with excitement at seeing them as they should be seen, feeling the playfulness and the joy. I’d kind of thought that everyone knew what I know, but it made me realize that I am, actually, in a very fortunate minority.

    When my kids were small we went to dolphin shows a few times, but as time went by I became increasinly uncomfortable with them. At first I thought it was because the tanks were just too small, and surely, in a reputable place, they would be better, but no. Then I thought that pens which are actually a part of the sea, as they have in the Florida Keys might not be so bad, they were better, but still – no freedom for creatures which in the wild swim 100 miles a day! Finally, I went to a facility, again, in the Keys, which was researching the theraputic effects of dolphins with handicapped kids. That was better, again, but still worrying. It took The Cove to put all my misgivings into perspective and to understand why instinctively I felt uneasy around captive dolphins. To your previous comment would say that if Rick O’Barry, the guy who trained “Flipper” is so against captivity, then it speaks volumes. Perhaps there are rescued dolphins, or ones who cannot fend for themselves, but this not not excuse the continued breeding of them in captivity, nor them getting play silly games to amuse ignorant humans…. and I mean ignorant in the correct sense of the word, people who know no better. Perhaps the phasing out needs to be gradual, but it needs to be begun. Love you guys!
    Linda recently posted…Things I Learned from My Islands Trip: No.3 My Need to be Near the Ocean!My Profile

  4. says

    Mags, we agree with you on the injured animals but making them perform is the not the answer. A perfect example of a true rehabilitation centre is the Orangutan Foundation in Borneo. They bring in the injured orangutan’s and slowly teach them how to live in the wild. It can take up to 11 years and everything is focused on the animal. Humans can’t just rock up and gawp at them. There are many ways rehabilitation centres can raise funds.
    Paul Farrugia recently posted…Memories of early travels | Sleeping in a manga cafe in Tokyo vlogMy Profile

  5. says

    I’m curious as to where your data for this one came from as I am not seeing any cited sources? For the record, Mexico has banned capturing dolphins in 2002 and importing dolphins in 2006.

    When we were at TBEX we went to one of the dolphin encounters to find out the details first hand, and then compared it to our experience with swimming with wild dolphins in Mauritius:

    Jeremy recently posted…Lifestyle Design – The Next Frontier for Long-Term TravelersMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Jeremy! Thanks for the comment. Most of the data was taken from Care for the Wild on their Right Tourism website. Personally I think any kind of “entertainment” in enclosed environments with these animals is wrong.

  6. says

    The Philippines to sitting with orangutans in Sumatra, Indonesia. They were all magical moments with the one common thread: All of the animals were in their own natural habitat, with us observing from a distance.


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