The dolphin is a wild animal! Keeping it in captivity places its life in danger. Developing behaviour that runs contrary to nature, gradually losing some of its senses, constrained to a food regime governed by good or bad behaviour, the animal is simply a shadow of itself in captivity. Only by observing dolphins in their natural environment is the teaching and educational role that many dolphinariums claim for themselves possible.
From the ocean to prison
Once captured, the dolphins are transferred with varying degrees of care to dolphinariums where they will end their days swimming around aimlessly in a pool free of any stimulation. The stress of this brutal change of environment will increase the mortality rate of these animals by a factor of 6 during the first days of confinement. Some will even mutilate themselves by throwing themselves against the walls of the pool to try and escape.
They have to cohabit, by force if necessary, with other dolphins that have undergone the same trauma. This creates problems of aggression and competition for food which most often leads to serious injury.
Captivity cannot meet their vital and social needs
There are no captive conditions that can meet the vital and social needs of animals which, in the wild, do not have any boundaries on their territory. Bottle-nose dolphins and orcas, which are the most represented in captivity, can travel over 150 km per day in their natural habitat, dive in deep waters and swim very quickly during group hunting sessions. They are animals which are perfectly adapted to the deep sea and its many stimuli. This behaviour is impossible inside four walls.
Dolphins live in stable groups within which each individual has a well-established role. They communicate in a complex way thanks to their natural sonar and they have even been recognised as using dialects. They swim in schools to find their position and locate their prey. But this vital use of sonar is no longer possible in small pools where there’s nothing to hunt anyway.
Victims of their intelligence
Their “docile” nature when being trained is related to their intelligence which requires no proof. But it is this intelligence which is also responsible for their mortality in captivity and the fact that births are rare. Confined in pools where they cohabit with other dolphins, by force if necessary, they quickly succumb to boredom and develop stereotypical behaviour which, as in any animal held in an environment that is far from ideal, can generate deadly pathologies.
What’s more, a stressed animal does not reproduce in captivity and even if they do the survival rate is very low for young dolphins.
Positive conditioning and food stress
The dolphins are trained to react to positive conditioning when performing. For each successful attraction (signalled by a whistle), they receive a dead fish as a food reward. The animals are kept in perpetual anticipation of food distributed piece-meal. The dolphin must have an empty stomach to be obedient.
In addition to this permanent food stress, the animals are required to perform several times per day for crowds that express their enthusiasm noisily with a booming sound system as a backdrop. But some dolphinariums go even further and put on shows in such unusual locations as casinos or discos. As cetaceans have a particularly well-developed sense of hearing, the noise can become a source of major pain.
When they are not performing or training, the dolphins swim aimlessly around their empty pools with no possible stimulation. During these periods stereotypical behaviour due to boredom can be seen. But this abnormal behaviour is just the visible part of deeper problems, such as serious physiological problems that account for the high mortality rate in dolphinariums.
Economic interests and dangerous practices
Unlike some countries like Great Britain that refuse to authorise dolphinariums, many others have seized on the economic benefits provided by a public looking for escape and fantasy. In addition to the traditional shows, some marine parks let their visitors, for a fee of course, feed or swim with the dolphins. These practices are dangerous for humans and dolphins alike. An audience packed around the side of the pool risks being bitten by animals which, stressed by the crowd, fight for food and become aggressive. The dolphins are exposed to health risks when they are “caressed” all day long by different pairs of hands
Someone who pays in good faith to feed dolphins will go away thinking that they have helped to conserve these dolphins. These companies have engineered this connection and have worked it into their marketing plans. But dolphins have never needed humans to feed in the ocean any more than they have needed physical contact with them.
Many dolphinariums emphasise their educational role, but in no way do they enable visitors to learn about the animal or its ecology. How can you provide information about dolphins who have completely artificial behaviour in an environment which is even more artificial? You cannot discover the complex nature of cetaceans in a pool.
The excesses of the phenomenon
Dolphins attract crowds and bring in money. Some parks have understood this all to well and attribute mystical healing powers to dolphins. This is why more and more “dolphin therapy” centres have sprung up, where sick people come to seek a cure. But so far no scientific study has proven any positive effect from these “therapies”. Dolphins appear to have no more influence on autism than dogs or horses. Why should these wild animals be enslaved when these practices are dangerous for humans and animals alike ?
You cannot discover the complex nature of cetaceans in a pool.