Dolphins in the Wild vs. Dolphins in Captivity

While Swim With Dolphins attractions and Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) continue to gain popularity, more and more dolphins are being held in captivity.

Some scientists claim that dolphin research is progressing in great strides but critics believe that keeping wild dolphins in captivity is cruel and should be stopped.

When contrasting wild dolphins to dolphins in captivity, there are huge differences in behavior. The high cost of studying wild dolphins has made scientific data of dolphins in the wild unavailable.

Wild Dolphins

It has been registered that wild dolphins can travel up to 40 miles every day and are constantly on the move, foraging for food, playing and fighting within their pods.

Dolphins in the wild spend approximately 80% of their time deep below the surface exploring the depths of the ocean. The need for continuos movement of Wild dolphins is one of the reasons that critics of captivity are using as arguments to request the release of dolphins in captivity.

The process to capture wild dolphins has traumatic effects on them. Statistics show that 53% of the dolphins that survive the capturing process will die within the first three months.

“Statistics show that up to 53% of the dolphins that survive the capturing process will die within the first three months in captivity.”

Freedom of dolphins.

Dolphins Swimming in the Ocean.

Dolphins in Captivity

Regardless that the dolphins we see in captivity worldwide seem to be happy, scientists believe that their boredom eventually leads to their premature deaths. Dolphins in captivity, contrasting with dolphins in the wild, spend only 20% of their time under the surface.

Activities like beaching themselves in aquatic shows contrast with dolphins in the wild that never would beach themselves. Scientists believe that this is extremely harmful because dolphins resting on their bellies over a hard surface, will eventually damage their internal organs.

At least 50% of the dolphins in captivity will die in less than seven years. Chlorine poisoning, disease and stress related illnesses are the main reasons that will cause the death of dolphins in captivity.

Studies also show that dolphins, unlike other animals, do not easily adapt to transport procedures when they are caught in the wild and moved to new locations. Even when they are moved years later.

Sometime during the capture process, dolphins are herded towards the shore, separating those still swimming with their mothers from the pod. They are then trussed in a sling and carried from the water to a transport vehicle. Research proves this procedure is very traumatic to dolphins.

US government researchers have found that mortality rates in bottlenose dolphins rise six fold immediately after capture.

Experience have shown that Dolphins in captivity do not live more than a few years, however, better caring procedures and advanced veterinary medicine, have helped them to live longer, as long as the dolphins in the wild. Scientists have not figured out yet why dolphins in captivity live less, as most wild animals in capitivity, protected from their natural predators will always outlive their counterparts in their natural environments.

Although there are many species of dolphins, bottlenose dolphins are the only ones that have been bred in captivity with success. Other dolphin species have simply been returned to the wild as they are unable to reproduce in captivity.

Many animal conservation groups are demanding the release of dolphins in captivity, but while dolphins are used for entertainment and profit, this will be very difficult to achive.




Use of Marine Mammals in Swim-with-the-dolphin Programs (FL,HI): Environmental Impact Statement, Volume 1. 1990.

Janet Mann. Cetacean Societies: Field Studies of Dolphins and Whales. University of Chicago Press, 2000.



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