Throughout Playa Del Carmen and Cancun, the streets are lined with pushy vendors promising tourists an amazing swim-with-the-dolphins (SWTD) experience. A decent looking woman smiles on a sign behind a dealer, and appears as though she is making a connection with the grey-skinned creature swimming close to her.
Vacationers are quick to hand over their money to tours and exhibitions featuring aquariums presenting dolphins performing tricks, and SWTD programs where you can touch, kiss and/or ride a dolphin.
Regrettably, the number of captive dolphin attractions in the Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America is growing.
My hope is that after reading this article you will consider the following before buying a ticket.
Cristian Toro-Mazote, native Chilean and three-year-Mexico resident, is no stranger to being forcefully escorted out of an aquarium for explaining the negative effects of contained aquatic mammals to his friends.
Toro, a seven-year-diver and dive instructor, states the biggest problem with Dolphinariums, (an aquarium for dolphins) is the fact that the people have such wonderful experiences with the mammal, the popularity continues to spread.
“Do you know anyone that is scared or afraid of dolphins,” asks Toro.
Toro believes the profitable industry allows confined dolphins to exist and customers are uninformed or do not have a conscious about the problem due to their own selfishness.
If the harmful effects of dolphins in captivity have never even crossed your mind, keep reading.
The truth is, a confined dolphin is trained to behave unnaturally merely for human amusement.
The dolphin captivity industry is an extremely profitable industry. Businesses imprison dolphins and place them in small concrete tanks or artificial lakes such as lagoons, depriving them of freedom, their families and, all too often, their lives. To a dolphin, a pool is a cage. It is impossible for these fast moving animals, which form complex social groups when free, to behave naturally in captivity.
Dolphins in the wild swim up to 50 miles each day and have large extended families.
Mortality rate: The mortality rates and abnormal behaviors of captive dolphins prove that a lack of stimulation causes them an enormous amount of stress. Swimming listlessly in circles is just one common indictor of boredom and psychological distress. Many dolphins do not survive the trauma of capture but of those that do, 53% die within three months of confinement.
Some of the main reasons captive dolphins suffer and die are from intestinal disease, stress-related illness and chlorine poisoning.
At least 50% of the dolphins in captivity will die in less than seven years.
Space: Pools are miserably small for large, far swimming animals and shallow waters expose dolphins’ delicate skin to painful sunburns. Dolphins in the wild spend approximately 80% of their time deep below the surface exploring the depths of the ocean.
Unnatural behavior: Unbelievably, dolphins are trained to beach themselves despite the danger of doing so. Scientists believe that this is extremely harmful because dolphins resting on their bellies over a hard surface, will eventually damage their internal organs.
Visitors do not realize that the much promoted dolphin ‘smile’ does not reflect their emotional state, rather, it is simply the shape of their mouths.
By withholding food, some trainers pressure dolphins into repetitive and unnatural behaviors such as performing ‘tricks’ for the public. Hunger forces the dolphins to ignore their most basic natural instincts.
Hunting/capture: Perhaps the capture of these wild creatures is the most disturbing aspect. Companies such as SeaWorld, create a demand for live dolphins attractions, most of which are taken from wild populations during bloody hunts. The three countries where dolphin hunting is legal are Japan, Faroe Islands and Solomon Islands where hundreds of animals not selected for live sale are butchered inhumanely for meat. Mexico has prohibited the import and export of marine mammals but regulation lacks while demand thrives.
Safety: SWTD programs cannot guarantee the safety of people interacting with dolphins, even those bred in captivity. After all, we are not talking about dogs here. Due to confined space and stress, unsurprising accounts of deliberate and inadvertent human injuries caused by captive dolphins include broken bones and shock.
The failure of captive dolphins to exhibit a higher survival rate in spite of 70 years of maintaining this species in captivity disputes the industries argument that captivity enhances survival by keeping animals safe from predators, parasites, and pollution and by providing regular feeding and ever-improving veterinary care.
Visiting a marine mammal attraction is damaging to their welfare and aids in continuing to allow companies to harm these beautiful creatures.
Instead, look for a responsible dolphin watching boat tour and enjoy the spectacle of wild dolphins at sea, performing on their terms. A responsible tour will not endorse any interaction with the dolphins.
Toro has experienced wild dolphins up close and personal whether watching them plunge and jump alongside a boat or witnessing them cross close above him as they swim close to the surface, screeching noisily underwater to communicate.
“They are enjoying the slavery of another living being,” said Toro. “If [dolphins] let you swim with them, it is a gift.”
By purchasing a ticket, you are inadvertently contributing to cruelty against these gentle and highly intelligent mammals.
The most common species kept in captivity for entertainment are beluga whales and dolphins including orcas or ‘killer whales’, along with seals, and sea lions. Sharks and an increasing quantity of Manta Rays are also being used for profit although these are rarely if ever used in specific ‘entertainment’ programs, rather just kept on public display.
Animal Welfare & Preventing Animal Cruelty (WSPA) campaigns for the closure of all dolphin attractions. If you witness any kind of captive dolphin show or swim program, report it to WSPA at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some attractions might seem ethical, but if you report it, they can check.
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