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Confession: I really, really want to go swim with dolphins and take a picture where Dolphin in oceanit looks like they’re kissing my cheek.

The dolphins at marine parks always look so smiley and happy!

It would be amazing to meet one of these intelligent and playful beings up close. I just love dolphins!

And that’s precisely why I’m not going to swim with them or go see them perform.

Huh? Stick with me as I explain.

It is not widely known that dolphins (and other sea mammals) in marine parks suffer… a lot.

Because of this, I don’t want to support marine parks by giving them my money.

I hope after reading today’s post, you’ll understand why and join me in boycotting these places this summer and beyond.

I believe that when people, the majority of whom are caring and kind, find out the truth about these places, they won’t want to support them.

So, even though dolphins at marine parks might look like they’re having fun – smiling, clapping their fins, and performing tricks for fish – they aren’t.

And here are several reasons why:

Social Life

Dolphin Pod SwimmingDolphins are among the most intelligent animals on earth and among the most active [1].

These amazing creatures live in families called pods, and newborn dolphins stay with their moms for four or five years, with many females never leaving the group [1].

Dolphins have close bonds with other members of the pod, so when a dolphin is removed, it’s hard for that individual and the others left behind.

Essentially, a family is torn apart when a dolphin is captured to be taken to a marine park.


The capture of a dolphin from the wild is a brutal and tragic affair.

Boats pursue a pod until the members are too exhausted to try to escape. A net is lowered, the pod is trapped, and the dolphins are dumped on board. Thrashing and protesting (emitting clicks and whistles), the most desirable specimens (usually between the ages of two and four) are kept; the others are thrown back into the sea. Some drop dead on the deck, from shock. Many are injured. The pod’s social unity is permanently impaired.” [1]


Dolphins swim long distances each day, sometimes up to one hundred miles, and they Dolphin in Captivitycan dive several hundred feet deep [2].

Compare this to the small concrete tanks they live in at marine parks, some of which measure as small as 24 feet long by 24 feet wide by 6 feet deep [3].

A few strokes in any direction and they hit a wall. It is inherently cruel.

SeaWorld should be called SeaPrison.


Dolphins eat live fish in the wild, but in captivity, once they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat dead fish [4]. These dead fish, which are not as nutritional as live ones [5], are not plentiful; dolphins only get to eat when they perform a desired (unnatural) behavior or tricks like “playing basketball” or diving through hoops. Their trainers have total control over them by limiting their food.

They lead a “life of deprivation made to look like ‘fun’” [6].


In the wild, a dolphin’s life span is 20 to 50 years. In captivity, they don’t live nearly as long.death-at-seaworld2

They also experience huge amounts of stress during capture, transport, and throughout their lives as all of their natural tendencies are frustrated.

Dolphins “get depressed, stressed out, even suicidal. In some parks, the trainers have to give the animals Maalox and Tagamet to treat the ulcers that develop from their stress” [7].

Aside from all of these problems, Swim-With-The Dolphins encounters and training marine mammals are not safe for the health or well-being of people either, as evidenced from the numerous attacks, injuries, and even deaths that have been reported over the years.

“We Care”

Marine parks like SeaWorld and Marineland try to position themselves as education and conservation centers through marketing and PR.

But despite what they say, they exist to make money, and they do this by exploiting animals like dolphins for entertainment.

As far as conservation goes, “Most public display facilities…do no more than produce multiple generations of a limited group of species, and do not maintain true conservation programs at all.” [8]

And regarding education, we might learn “how dolphins ‘naturally behave when they live in concrete pools and perform tricks all day,'” [9] but I hardly think that’s worthwhile or justifies the cruelty.

In addition, SeaWorld and places like it claim to care for their animals’ welfare. They say things like ‘we take the well-being of our animals very seriously.”

But we should think twice about trusting them; they’re the ones who gain financially by pulling the wool over our eyes.

And it’s clear from looking at the evidence above that if marine parks really did care about the well-being of their dolphins and other animals, they would not keep them in captivity in the first place.

The very traits that make dolphins easy to train and fascinating for audiences—their intelligence and self-awareness—arguably make confining them for entertainment purposes unethical.

– WSPA and HSUS’s The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity

The Good News!

Dolphin WatchingThe good news is that we are not powerless in the face of this exploitation. We can:

1. Boycott these places and force them to end their abuse of animals for entertainment.

The people of Britain used the power of consumer boycotts to close their marine parks, and we can too!

2. Decide not to patronize resorts, cruise lines, and hotels that offer Swim-With-The-Dolphins experiences or marine mammal shows. 

3. Contact your U.S. senators and representative and tell them to support an amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibiting the capture of marine mammals from the wild for public display during the Act’s next re-authorization. [10]

The best part of all? We can still enjoy seeing dolphins!

Support responsible dolphin watching tours and see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat, where they belong.


P.S. If you come to Charleston for vacation this summer, you can take harbor cruises or sit at Shem Creek and spot lots of dolphins!

Dolphins in Charlston HarborP.P.S. Update: After I wrote this post, an incredible documentary called Blackfish came out about SeaWorld. I highly, highly recommend watching it. It’s available on Netflix!

Blackfish poster


[1] Tom Regan, Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004: 136.

[2] “Swim-with-the-Dolphins Attractions.” HSUS – 2009. http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/captive_marine/facts/swim_dolphins.html. Accessed May 12, 2013.

[3] Tom Regan, Op Cit, p. 138

[4] Ibid, p. 138

[5] “The Case against marine mammals in captivity.” The Humane Society of the United States and The World Society for the Protection of Animals. http://www.wspa-international.org/Images/159_the_case_against_marine_mammals_in_captivity_english_2009_tcm25-8409.pdf. Accessed May 11, 2013.

[6] Tom Regan, Op Cit, p. 139

[7] “Captured dolphins aren’t smiling.” CNN.  http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/03/02/stevens.dolphins.captivity/index.html. Accessed May 11, 2013.

[8] “The Case against marine mammals in captivity,” Op Cit.

[9] Tom Regan, Op Cit, p. 135

[10]”Swim-with-the-dolphins Attractions,” Op Cit.