Travel and Captivity: A Guide to Responsible Travel

Captivity Is No Vacation For Dolphins

Captive marine mammals play a huge role in the travel and tourism industry, serving as main attractions for many island and coastal destinations, in addition to major vacation hubs. Captive entertainment is a multi-billion dollar industry internationally, and travelers are often unaware of the realities that can harm dolphins in this setting. Below are guides to help you become a savvy and environmentally-responsible wildlife tourist.

Damaged rostrums were also a common sight at all five of the Dolphinaris locations. Credit: Empty the Tanks/Dolphin Project

Misleading Messaging About Facilities

The captive entertainment industry has gone to great lengths to misinform and confuse their customers for decades; we are told that they are protecting wild species, rescuing and rehabilitating injured animals, promoting wild conservation, and giving them a better life than they could have in the wild. Yet the fact is that most of this language is marketing, and when we look deeper, very small portions of efforts and expenditures are devoted to this practice. Clever wording helps keep tourists under the impression that they are supporting animal welfare, rather than participating in an exploitative industry.

Genuine rescue facilities and sanctuaries limit human interaction in order to prioritize the well-being of the animals in their care. Learn more about telling the difference.

Profit-Driven Motives

At the heart of captivity is the reality that captive facilities are driven by tourist dollars and the desire to gain profits at the expense of animal well-being. The desire to lure in as many paying customers as possible means slick advertising, clever messaging, and deceiving well-meaning animal lovers into supporting detrimental captive conditions.

Many captive facilities proudly list their certifications and awards, when in truth many are created by the industry itself. Several are explained here:

IMATA (International Marine Animal Trainers Association): Accreditation that captive facilities receive from fellow marine mammal trainers. IMATA claims that they are opposed to the slaughter of cetaceans that occurs in drive fisheries, but their statements do not oppose the wild captures that also take place during those drives.

American Humane: Routinely certifies marine parks and zoos, despite documented concerns of animal care (Miami Seaquarium, Dolphin Discovery)

AMMPA (Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums): Association of captive facilities that provides accreditation to marine parks.

IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions: Membership to an international network of theme parks. It holds no value when it comes to animal welfare.

We encourage you to independently research these certifications to determine their validity.

Captive orca at Loro Parque
A dolphin with rake marks and a discolored rostrum gets medical treatment at Dolphin Discovery's Isla-Mujeres location. Picture Credit: Empty the Tanks/Dolphin Project

Empty the Tanks Mexico

Mexico has long had one of the highest concentrations of captive facilities in the world. In the state of Quintana Roo, the main highway is lined with 19 such facilities beckoning tourists daily, with over a dozen scattered throughout the remainder of the country. Empty the Tanks Mexico is a campaign dedicated to educating travelers about these facilities, as well as acting as a watchdog over captive operations throughout the country. Learn more about our EMPTY THE TANKS MEXICO CAMPAIGN.


Understanding the intelligence and complexity of these species, as well as how they behave in the wild helps us understand that their natural ranges in the open ocean are where they thrive. It is vital that we continue to spread awareness about dolphins to help end exploitation in captivity, and to help wild dolphin populations stay healthy!

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