Captivity Frequently Asked Questions

dolphin captivity faq

There are a number of concerning issues when it comes to dolphin and whale captivity. With so many marine parks and aquariums using terms like “rescue” or “research” there is a level of confusion among consumers. The following are some of the most common questions we’ve received about dolphin captivity. More information about captivity issues is available on our Facts About Captivity page.

Where do captive dolphins come from?

Many marine parks and aquariums utilize artificial insemination to breed captive cetaceans in order to keep their tanks full. Parks that are not able to breed their captive dolphins and whales may also resort to purchasing wild-captured dolphins from gruesome dolphin drive hunts.

Aren't most captive dolphins rescued?

Some captive dolphin facilities do act as responders for wildlife strandings and offer rescue services. However, data from marine mammal inventory reports show that most captive dolphins are actually bred and not rescued. In reality, the instances of rescue are very low, and most of their efforts are devoted to their profit-making business.

What parts of the world have banned cetacean captivity?

With growing awareness about major welfare and ethical concerns for cetaceans in captivity, a growing number of places around the world are moving to ban/phase out the captivity of dolphins and whales. See the full list of places that are protecting dolphins from captivity on our Where are Dolphins Protected? page.

Which captive facilities have been closed?

Thanks to Dolphin Project’s work along with efforts of cetacean advocates all over the world, a number of captive dolphin facilities have been closed or never opened. See the full list on our Closed Facilities page!

Can captive dolphins return to the ocean?

All captive dolphins are candidates for retirement in natural sea sanctuaries near their home range. Depending on several factors, some captive dolphins may also be candidates for readaptation and release. Read more about our retirement and release cases on our Dolphin Sanctuary Project page!

Aren’t dolphins safer in captivity than in the wild? There’s so much pollution in the ocean.

While there are threats in the wild, the vast majority of oceanic dolphin species are not endangered and we are working to keep it that way!
On the other hand, captive dolphins face a great deal of concerning issues. A quick look through the Marine Mammal Inventory Report will show you very concerning and self-reported causes of death dolphins have endured in marine park including foreign object ingestion, drowning, killed by another dolphin, food poisoning, jumped out of tank. We also have to consider quality of life. One could argue that humans would be a lot safer in a prison cell or even never leaving their house than they would be if they went outside to face car accidents, shootings, terrorism, pollution, etc., yet we still leave our house every day and take the risk.

What's the difference between a sanctuary and a marine park?

Based on inquiries we have received, it appears there is confusion about facilities that list themselves as “sanctuaries” yet keep dolphins for display and interactive programs. We’ve compiled some tips here to help potential customers research before they support a captive dolphin facility here.

Don't marine parks do some good work?

Some marine parks participate in rescue work and education on conservation issues such as marine pollution and overfishing. These are commendable, but they do not justify displaying cetaceans captive for entertainment purposes. With the technology available today, there are endless possibilities for cruelty-free attractions, experiences and rides that can engage and entertain park guests, and in turn continue to fund rescue and education efforts. 

If a dolphinarium is a nonprofit, does that mean they can’t profit off of their captive dolphins?

Some captive dolphin facilities have registered themselves as nonprofits, but it doesn’t prevent them from being able to profit off of their animals. These facilities can still pay their owners and employees as much as they’d like and some earn six-figure salaries. Operating as a nonprofit also allows them other benefits, like the ability to accept donations and get a better deal on their taxes. 

How will we learn about dolphins if we don’t study captive ones?

Much of the research being done on captive dolphins is actually husbandry research. This type of research is aimed at learning how to better keep, breed, and care for captive dolphins, not their wild counterparts. Dolphins’ behavior is also altered when being forced to live in a captive environment, making it difficult to apply many findings to wild dolphins. Every behavior performed by a captive dolphin is affected by its surroundings, so we don’t learn much about actual dolphin behavior, and it doesn’t teach us anything about how we can protect them in the wild.

Is connecting with a captive dolphin in person necessary to inspire conservation?

No. With the technology available today, there are many alternative educational and inspirational tools. Conservation can be inspired through the power of films and documentaries, animatronics, artwork, or seeing wild whales and dolphins on a responsibly conducted eco-tour.

The activities with captive dolphins that dolphinariums promote, such as feeding and touching, and watching them perform tricks, can conversely teach people to disrespect wildlife. This type of close contact promotes the idea that dolphins “want” to be touched or fed. This has led to people seeking to do so with wild dolphins, which is can be harmful for both people and dolphins.

Are there any dolphin facilities that are ok to visit?

Unfortunately many marine parks advertise themselves with terms such as “sanctuary” or “rescue” which causes confusion among consumers. Any facility that promotes captive dolphin photo opportunities, interaction programs and other commercialized opportunities should be cause for concern. True sanctuaries are few and far between- a true sanctuary is a place where non-releasable dolphins can live out their lives with peace and dignity, in an environment that is as natural as possible with no shows, no loud music and limited interaction with visitors. Learn more on our Sanctuary, or Marine Park? page.

Are all aquariums bad?

Every facility should be researched independently and evaluated even if they do not have captive marine mammals. It is difficult to make blanket statements about every facility, since it requires an understanding all of their exhibits and tank configurations, as well as research in to the work they do. Many do engage in great conservation efforts, but they often also keep some animals confined in tighter quarters than we’d like. Larger species like sharks have difficulty thriving in captive conditions as well. At the end of the day, it is a judgment call for each individual to decide what they wish to support. We always advise doing your own independent research online before visiting, and also explore other nearby options such as whale watching tours that may be available. 



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