Dolphins and Whales, Captivity vs Wild


Marine mammals have been a fascination for humans for many decades. These mammals popularity leads to a lucrative business with the public’s high demand for dolphin and human interactions. Worldwide, there are abundant dolphin and whale shows, programs for swimming with the dolphins, and assisted swimming therapy. Humans train the dolphins and whales to interact with them, but what does captivity of these mammals do to their social and natural behavior? The capture of wild cetaceans is controversial, and through researching the lives of both the wild born and captive born dolphins and whales, one has to ask if we have the right to breed them or take away their freedom for human purposes?

The Truth Behind Capturing Wild Dolphins

There are some dolphins that are born in captivity,others captured from the wild. Capturing of large numbers of wild dolphins is cruel and violent. One of the ways to corral dolphins is to use speed boats to exhaust the dolphin, capture them with nets, and transport them by boat.This is very traumatic for the dolphin and many of them die along the way. There are injuries and drownings of the entangled dolphins from the ramming of the nets. Over half of them perish within 3 months of captivity.(WSPA 2010, The public needs to know the ugly truth on how wild dolphins are captured and sold to some aquariums. Ironically, our fascination and demand for interactions with dolphins drives the cruel and barbaric ways to capture and contain them. It is a key element that makes this a subject of ethics, because of the greed and unethical acts of humans.

Another controversial way to capture dolphins has caught attention worldwide: the slaughtering of dolphins in Taijii, Japan. The award-winning documentary “The Cove” was filmed secretly by the director, Ric O’Barry, who was a past trainer of dolphins and the trainer for the famous dolphin “Flipper.”  The film focused on Taiiji’s brutal slaughtering of dolphins for meat. Dolphin and whale hunting has been a cultural tradition in Japan that dates back to the 1600s.  (Huffington Post 2010) Japan’s government allows the killing of up to 19,0000 dolphins annually, including  2000 of them in Taijii. The dolphin hunt is often called the “drive hunt” in which the fisherman bang metal poles together to confuse the dolphins sonar and chase them to shallower water where they are viciously harpooned or cross-bowed for the sale of meat. The fisherman line up the live captured dolphins in the bloody waters and single them out for aquariums and swim with the dolphin programs. Young female dolphins are the most popular choice for these programs because of their ability to breed. The world-wide attention of this hunting tradition has shed light and acknowledgement of how humans are still inhumanely treating cetaceans and how our demand to interact with them drives this money-making horror show.

In 1972, the marine mammal protection act made it illegal in the United States to purchase dolphins captured inhumanely in the wild. This has led to breeding in captivity and artificial and social environments for the dolphin. Dolphins are also found by rescue groups. Marine rescue such as Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida rescue sick and injured dolphins. Medical staff and volunteers rehabilitate these dolphins and release them back into the wild. Unfortunately, not all dolphins can return back to the wild because of permanent medical issues.

SeaWorld Controversy

Other unreleasable rescue dolphins get shipped to places like Sea World and “Swim with the dolphins programs.”  Fred Jacobs, the vice president of Busch Gardens states:

Though Sea World used to buy from drive hunts and obtained animals through capture, these days about 80 percent of Sea World’s marine mammals were born in captivity, with most of the rest arriving as the result of an animal rescue operation, such as a stranding.

The public’s love and fascination of cetaceans keep these types of businesses thriving, but it is the dolphins and whales that have to adapt to a life of captivity. The recent CNN documentary Blackfish has finally brought some attention to the truth behind the life of these orcas in captivity. The documentary targets SeaWorld;  public lies and the behind the scenes cover up of the truth. The movie films baby orcas taken away from their mothers, food is withheld so they will perform their circus tricks. The whales brutally attack each other in captivity because they are from all different families.  It is without a doubt that the trainers care and love these marine mammals, but it is corporate who is responsible for the captures and now breeding in captivity programs that keep this huge business bringing in the money. On SeaWorld’s behalf, the company is also responsible for many marine mammal rescues and successful releases back into the wild. It seems extremely hypocritical however; to save marine life then enslave them in a horrible life of captivity to perform tricks for human entertainment. The documentary Blackfish gives a biased but important side of  life in captivity.  If you have not seen Blackfish yet, you can find it online in its full entirety. Here is the link to the official trailer:

Dolphins in Captivity vs Natural Habitat

A wild dolphin taken from his family in his natural environment has a low chance of survival. Over fifty percent of dolphins in captivity die within a few days of transport and their life span are dramatically shorter than that in the wild.  Research shows that marine mammals in captivity display stress and abnormal behavior by repeating their motions and swimming patterns. They spend only 20% of their time underwater compared to 80 % in the wild. ( A meal of dead fish replaces their natural instinct of hunting prey. Some facilities withhold regular feedings to force them to do tricks during their performance several times a day.

Dolphins in the wild, however, are very social and predatory creatures. Some species can dive up to 1000 ft, swim up to 25 miles per hour, and travel distances of 50 miles in a day. They usually live in large groups or pods and calves stay with their mother for 2 to 3 yrs. They spend about 80% of their time below the surface of the water and can live up to 30 to 50 years. There have been many years of scientific research to tell us how intelligent these mammals are and how they bond with one another socially. Research shows that they have a complex communication with each other and social structure. The facts are overwhelming that dolphins do not live as long in captivity and humans dictate and suppress their behavior and social structure.

How profitable is this business?

The main motivator behind dolphins and whales in captivity is money.  Dolphins sold to aquariums cost over 100,000 dollars apiece. According to financial statements InBev’s entertainment, which consists of mainly SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, captive cetaceans (whales and dolphins) collected about 1.34 billion dollars.  (Travel News, MSNBC) Swim with the dolphin programs charge hundreds of dollars to swim, touch and even get pulled around by a dolphin by hanging on to its dorsal fin. It is a huge, profitable industry and one of the ways to help stop it is to stop buying tickets to dolphin shows and paying large sums of money to swim with the dolphins. Simply put, it is supply and demand.

The capture and captivity of dolphins and whales is an ethical dilemma. These highly intelligent mammals have their own communication among themselves.  The facts are abundant on the horrific slaughtering and capturing of dolphins for human purposes.  There are many more detailed stories of the plight of the dolphin and human interference. Dolphin and orca entertainment is a multi-billion dollar business, so one of the main ways to help these intelligent mammals is to stop exploiting them for entertainment and stop buying show tickets.

By: Jean Dawson, Botanical Body Balance (


Alabaster, J, (2010, Nov 3)”The Cove” Taiji, Japanese Village in Oscar Winning Film Defends Dolphin Hunting, The Huffington Post, Retrieved at: (

Alexander, B., 2010, Dolphin Hunt Film Sparks Dilemma for Tourists, Accessed online at:

Animal Planet, Dolphins Explored, Accessed online at:

Animal Planet, Blood Dolphins, In Opposition to Dolphin Captivity, Accessed online at:
( dolphins-captivity.html)

Blackfish, CNN documentary

Mote Marine Laboratory, Accessed online at: (

Wild Dolphins and Dolphins in Captivity, Accessed online at:

WSPA, Captive–Bred Dolphins in interactive Programs, Accessed online at: ( programs.cfm)

WSPA, Dolphins in Captivity FAQS, Accessed online at:

WSPA, US Dolphin Regulations, Accessed on line at: (

Jean Dawson