Plight of the captive dolphins

To a dolphin, a pool is a cage. These fast moving animals, which form complex social groups when free, cannot behave naturally in captivity. On these grounds, WSPA campaigns for the closure of all dolphin attractions.

The mortality rates and abnormal behaviours of captive dolphins prove that a lack of stimulation causes them terrible stress. Swimming listlessly in circles is just one common indictor of boredom and psychological distress.

Space is also an issue – pools are miserably small for large, far ranging animals that would swim up to 50 miles a day in the wild. The shallow waters expose dolphins’ delicate skin to painful sunburns.

By withholding food, some trainers coerce dolphins into repetitive and unnatural behaviours, performing ‘tricks’ for the public. Hunger forces the dolphins to ignore their most basic natural instincts. They are even trained to beach themselves, despite the danger of doing so.

Visitors don’t always realise that the much promoted dolphin ‘smile’ does not reflect of their emotional state. It is simply the shape of their mouths.

Dying to entertain

A dolphin is trained to behave unnaturally for human amusement

Already numerous in the United States, the number of captive dolphin attractions in the Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America is growing.

They create a demand for live dolphins, most of which are taken from wild populations during bloody hunts. In many dolphin hunts, including those in Japan, the hundreds of animals not selected for live sale are butchered inhumanely for meat.

Many dolphins do not survive the trauma of capture. Of those that do, 53% die within three months of confinement. Captive dolphins also suffer and die from intestinal disease, stress-related illness and chlorine poisoning.

Learn more from the WSPA/HSUS report The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity (2009) (PDF 2.2MB) >>

Dolphin stress and human safety

‘Swim with dolphins’ programmes cannot guarantee the safety of people interacting with dolphins, even those bred in captivity.

These powerful animals are often stressed from being in a confined space. Unsurprisingly, accounts of deliberate and inadvertent human injuries caused by captive dolphins include broken limbs.

Protest dolphin captivity

Never visit a marine mammal attraction – the very act of confinement is damaging to their welfare.

Instead, look for a responsible dolphin watching boat tour and enjoy the spectacle of wild dolphins at sea, performing on their terms. A responsible tour will not endorse any interaction with the dolphins.

If you witness any kind of captive dolphin show or swim programme, report it to WSPA at Some attractions might seem ethical, but if you report it, we can check.

Page tools:
Share Share, Bookmark, Email or Print

Connect with WSPA on:


Make a difference

Your donation to WSPA will help protect animal welfare globally

A pod of dolphins in the wild