You’re on vacation in a sunny, warm spot and a friendly, smiling person hands you an advertising brochure about a local place where you can swim with the dolphins. It sounds like a fun thing to do. What could be better than beating the heat in a cool pool while frolicking with these gentle, friendly giants of the sea?
In reading some reviews on Tripadvisor, you might also see many that say that their experience in swimming with the dolphins was the highlight of their trip and an “unforgettable experience”. Undoubtedly, you will read about how tourists had a blast interacting with these animals, who ‘kissed them’, allowed them a photo op, and gave them a ride while hanging onto a fin. For some, the experience was a “dream come true”. Still others, tell a different story.
We have long viewed dolphins as cuddly, creatures of the oceans who love interacting with humans as much as we love interacting with them. However, that, in reality, is far from the truth.
Dolphins Can Be Aggressive, Nasty and Conniving
Richard Conner, from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and co-director of the Dolphin Research Institute says, this about dolphins.
“They are very intelligent, but just like humans, can be nasty and conniving”. 1
During breeding season, Conner’s crew observed in Australia’s Sharks Bay, the ‘herding’ of unwilling females being chased.
It’s often two or three males against one female. At one time, they observed an aggressive attack that lasted 85 minutes, where the dolphins covered a distance of seven kilometers. Other times, there were ‘super alliances’ which involved as many as 14 males.
The 1992 paper details some of the violence. “Male aggression toward a consort included chasing, hitting with the tail, head-jerks, charging, biting, or slamming bodily into the female.”
As well, there is evidence to support that male dolphins kill baby dolphins who are not their natural offspring by drowning them.
Unprovoked Dophin Attack in Ireland
In Ireland, Valerie Ryan jumped off the Doolin pier in County Clare, to for a swim, when she was attacked by Dusty, a dolphin who had previously been known as a friendly, playful dolphin. Ryan was hospitalized for 5 days and sustained six spinal fractures, three broken ribs and a damaged lung. Read about her experience here.
Dolphins in the Tourist Industry
In the tourism industry, however, the fact that dolphins are wild, and unpredictable animals, and like many creatures, prone to violence, is not something that is discussed. You won’t learn in the brochure, the unfortunate fact that many of these intelligent creatures have been captured in nets and taken from the wild to live in captivity to perform unnatural acts all day, everyday, to delight tourists who will pay for the pleasure.
Although you don’t hear about dolphin attacks by your tourist guide, tourists on Tripadvisor, have provided their own personal accounts.
Dolphin Violence Accounts at Swim With The Dolphins Attractions from Tripadvisor
A writer, InvisibleCircus, writes about an experience at Xcarat in Mexico, where a male dolphin, did not want to participate in ‘kissing’ the tourists and would not respond to the whistles or commands of the trainers. The trainers then brought in 2 more male dolphins and assured InvisibleCircus that everything was fine. The tourist was then rammed by all three dolphins and being thrown out of the water. As she explained, this is how dolphins kill whales. Although it doesn’t say how she survived, she obviously lived to write about it.
After an experience at Xel-Ha in Mexico, EastYorksCouple, reported on her group of six people swimming with two dolphins. Again, one dolphin decided not to work with the trainer and totally ignored his whistles and prompts. When he disappeared, the trainer said it had gone away to fight with another dolphin. When he returned, the trainer told everyone to hold hands in a circle, as the dolphin circled the group. When the dolphin popped up in the middle of the circle, the trainer shouted “Everyone out!”
As she writes “Well it’s not easy to swim fast in a life jacket and the dolphin started to nip mine and another ladies ankles. The dolphin then started swimming back and forth between me and the jetty, preventing me from getting out, then started to bite my right leg, biting and dragging down and I was afraid it was going to drag me under the water. I was shouting for help and the Xel Ha staff responded by trying to get the dolphins attention by splashing the water! Thanks – this was not effective and I needed help. My husband came back into the water to help me and I was left with a scratched, bleeding and bruised leg.”
She goes on to caution people that swimming with the dolphins is not necessarily a safe practice for everyone who tries it.
Dolphins Plus, Keylargo
Dolphins Plus in Keylargo, was reviewed by Winktrip_13, who said that her 14 year old daughter was attacked by a dolphin. The reason given? ” We were told they don’t like it when you move your arms.” The girl was pulled under by the dolphin until she was saved by a trainer.
Besides the fact that dolphins are unpredictable, large wild animals, capable of causing great harm, perhaps the best reason to avoid visiting a swim-with-the-dolphins attraction is the treatment of the animals.
Abuse of Dolphins in Captivity
Although capturing dolphins for these facilities is illegal, it still happens. And undesirable dolphins, basically dolphins who aren’t cute, are killed for their meat.
In the wild, dolphins enjoy the wonders of the vast, beautiful, clean ocean, and swim up to 40 miles in a day. In the cramped pools, they are confined to a space that is less than 1 percent of their natural habitat. Comparatively, that would be like a human living in a tiny cell.
Forced to perform the same unnatural functions with humans several times a day, the dolphins often become depressed and agitated. In situations where there is conflict among dolphins, there is nowhere to escape.
An Insider Speaks Out On the Truth About the Industry
A former trainer from the Bahamas, who wanted to remain anonymous, spoke to thedodo.com, saying this about the dolphins, “They would get frustrated … and aggressive to guests or knock food buckets out of our hands.” 4)
He claimed the smell of chlorine was so strong that it choked the trainers and sometimes caused the animals to go blind.
Even more shocking and depressing, he reported that sometimes when females would have babies, the mothers would sometimes prevent their babies from getting air, and therefore kill them. Although he is not a scientist, he and his coworkers wondered if the mothers chose to kill their babies, rather than have them face a world in captivity.
I read many more tripadvisor reviews and reviewers had a lot to say.
While some were giving the facilities 5 stars and rave reviews, there were also many others who were clearly disappointed and gave the facilities the minimum one star. Many of these seemed to be because they felt these places were basically a huge money grab. While not allowing photos to be taken, the charges to purchase photos was exorbitantly high while – as much as 150 dollars for photos, per person, on top of the price of admission, which was about $150 USD to swim with the dolphins, or $35 to watch.
Still others who took the time to write their reviews, were saddened by the situations that these intelligent creatures are being forced to live in.
Dolphins Want Out So Bad Their Noses Are Rubbed Raw
In reviewing Delfinario in Cayo Santa Maria, Fundycoast writes. “Will never have money go towards this again! All the dolphins want to do is get out. You can tell by their poor noses. Rubbed raw. I really wish this was not part of the catamaran tour.”
Some wrote about dolphins who had cuts and wounds. Another said employees had to put sunscreen on the dolphins due the shallowness of the water in the concrete pools they were forced to live in. One reported that when asked why a dolphin was constantly whining, was told by an employee that her family had been recently separated as they needed more males in that particular facility. Still another spoke up excrement floating in the pool.
On one hand, regarding the welfare of some animals in our society, in some terms, things look hopeful. We have evolved to the degree, in that in the last number of decades, that we have recognized that the traditional circus should be banned. We have come to the realization that removing animals from their natural habitats and forcing them into captivity to perform unnatural acts and tricks, simply for the for the viewing pleasure of humans, is simply wrong.
Things For Land Animals Improve, But for Dolphins Things Get Worse
However, for the plight of dolphins, in the last number of decades, has worsened significantly. Driven by our curiosity, or perhaps bragging rights, to be up close and personal with these otherwise wild animals, a profitable industry has arisen. An industry that confines beautiful large beasts to tiny, chemically-loaded, dirty, shallow environments where they are forced to perform and repeat the same tasks, day after day.
As disturbed as I was to read the negative reviews, I found it equally disturbing reading the positive reviews.
While many of those reviewers found their 15 minute visit with the dolphin “life-changing”, each of those dolphins might also dream about life-changing experience – escaping to a place where they never have to see another human as long as they live.
Have you swam with the dolphins at a tourist facility? Would you? Please leave your comments.