Updated: May 27
All around the world, thousands of dolphins and whales (cetaceans) are held in captivity for entertainment. Theme parks such as SeaWorld, MarineLand, Loro Parque, and dozens more boast their live dolphin and whale shows. On the surface, these shows may seem like a fun and educational experience for the whole family, but they are far from fun for the animals performing. From the moment of deadly capture to their untimely deaths, the animals forced into this industry suffer countless physical and mental strains.
Capturing cetaceans for the entertainment industry is no bloodless task. In Taiji, Japan, several local fishing fleets head out to sea in the morning in search of large pods of dolphins. They then use all of their vessels to redirect the dolphins towards the shore in an area now referred to as The Cove. Younger dolphins are often the target as they are easier to capture, handle and transport than those more mature. Although the dolphins they capture must be captured alive, this does not mean there will be no bloodshed. Mature dolphins will instinctively attempt to save their young, and in doing so the fishermen will kill them to get them out of the way. This is only one of many examples of how whales and dolphins are captured and sold into captivity.
Families have been being torn apart for decades for the sake of human entertainment. Tragic slaughter of marine mammals happens every day around the world, just so a handful can be used for live shows and exhibits.
Physical & Mental Abuse
Orcas and dolphins don’t magically know how to do the tricks that are seen during live shows. It takes tedious and abusive training to teach them. They are often bribed with food to execute the tricks that the trainer wants them to learn. When they perform a trick correctly, they get a treat. But when the trick isn’t performed or not correctly, food is withheld from them. Starvation essentially drives the whales and dolphins into obedience. Starvation can lead to depression, and even acts of aggression towards other cetaceans in the tank with them, or the trainers.
Not only are whales and dolphins starved at entertainment parks, the pools they spend their lives in are entirely too small for their size. Too small of an environment for these animals is strenuous mentally and physically. In the wild cetaceans swim between 65-160 km (40-99 miles) in a given day, and dive on average 90 meters (295 feet) deep. The enclosures they are stuck in are depriving them of their swimming capabilities, only allowing them to swim aimlessly in circles for years. The deepest tank in SeaWorld, for example, is 35 feet deep, nowhere near deep enough for them to have the swimming space they need.
Boredom, stress, and depression are all symptoms of the lack of stimuli received in artificial enclosures. It is not uncommon for dolphins and whales to be seen logging (floating lifelessly at the surface of the water), chewing on metal bars, swimming in the same, repetitive patterns for hours, or popping their jaws. None of these behaviors are normal or seen in the wild.
Orcas in captivity are frequently seen with a collapsed dorsal fin. Wild orcas dorsal fins can be up to six feet tall and are kept in their natural, upright position due to the constant movement of water around them as they travel. However, because of the small tanks whales are kept in, gravity forces their dorsal fin down towards their body causing dorsal fin collapse. Dorsal fin collapse is seen in every male orca in captivity and many female orcas in captivity. Only 1% of orca in the wild are known to experience dorsal fin collapse in their life.
There is not a lot of concrete knowledge about the lifespan of orcas and dolphins in the wild however, it is estimated that dolphins can live anywhere from 50-60 years in the wild, and orcas can live up to 90 in the wild, though they average around 50-60 years as well. In captivity, dolphins hardly reach 20 and orcas live to be about 30. Parks and aquariums boast their amenities accommodating cetaceans including, medical care, lack of food scarcity, and protection from predators. If these animals have such an easy life, why do they hardly reach middle age in their care? Sea animals are meant to live in the sea where they can thrive, not a swimming pool.
What You Can Do
Don’t buy a ticket and don’t support these corrupt businesses that are dangering wildlife. Encourage your friends and family to do the same, and educate those unaware. Get involved with and donate to groups that are taking action. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, and the American Cetacean Society are all amazing organizations whose sole purpose is to bring justice to whales and dolphins across the world. Sign petitions and demand SeaWorld, MarineLand, Loro Parque, and the countless other parks put an end to captive cetaceans.