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.