Dolphin Captivity in North America

IRP Overview

Dolphin captivity in North America is a major industry. With over 550 animals in 34 facilities across the US alone, it accounts for a large portion of their tourism revenue. Dolphin captivity is a controversial topic, with the movie 'Blackfish' sparking public interest in 2013. There is much controversy over the topic, and many people hold strong opinions on it.

Dolphins are highly intelligent creatures, they have complex social structures and culture. Many captive dolphins are taken from the wild and are subsequently separated from their families. Often the animals are taken at a young age, many before they are fully socially developed. Due to this, captive animals tend to have behavioural issues that are not present in their wild counterparts. In the wild, dolphins can swim up to 100 miles a day, often swimming straight for tens of miles. In captivity, it is impossible to replicate the space they have and because of this they cannot behave naturally.

Captive animals are also more prone to illnesses due to their weakened immune system. Although they live lives free from pollution and predators, the sterile environment and increased amounts of stress lead to the dolphins developing illnesses and ultimately dying earlier then their wild counterparts. Captive animals also exhibit illnesses that are not observed in the wild. Many animals chew on their concrete tanks to curb boredom, which leads to teeth breaking down. Animals also may attack each other due to lack of space or having not developed a social structure as they can not communicate effectively, this leads to rake marks. Rake marks are when a dolphin scrapes their teeth across another dolphin, usually to exhibit dominance. In the wild, animals can escape the attackers, however in captivity they have no such chance and can be relentlessly bullied by the other dolphins in their tanks.

Seaworld Bottlenose Dolphins with severe rake marks.

It is difficult to deal with dolphin captivity as companies that have dolphins are not willing to stop their practice, instead they continue to try to convince the public that they are taking care of the animals. There is no clear solution to dolphin captivity, there is little evidence that rehabilitating animals is possible, and cases that have been sucessfully been released have been costly and needed constant care and supervision for several years. Keiko, the star of the movie 'Free Willy' was released back into the wild after having been in captivity for many years. However, the effort costed nearly 20 million dollars, and ended in tragedy when Keiko's weakened immune system lead to him developing pneumonia not long after being released. It is hard to imagine companies willing to invest large amounts of money getting rid of what generates the money in the first place, regardless of whether or not it is the right thing to do.

This topic was chosen because it is relevant and current. All over the world, people are campaigning for facilities like Seaworld and Marineland to close their parks. North America was chosen specifically due to how engrained it is in their society. In 2014, Seaworld had 22 million visitors, which is comparable to Six Flags, a massive franchise with 13 facilities in the US. I also chose this topic as it is something I am passionate about, having visited the Australian 'Sea World' many times throughout my childhood, having swum with captive dolphins in Dubai and also having seen wild dolphins I have always been an advocate for animals and seeing them suffer is unfair and cruel.

This issue effects every country with captive dolphins, however I have chosen to specifically focus on North America. It effects states that have parks with dolphins, on a state-wide scale and also a local scale where the park is located. It is also on a federal level as it is ultimately the government's responsibility to ensure that animals are not being abused and appropriate laws are being passed.