The difference between cetaceans in captivity and in the wild

captivity dolphins

 “No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.” – Jacques Yves Cousteau.

We all love whales and dolphins, and the captive industry has capitalized it to make huge profits at the expense of animal misery.

Public aquariums and dolphinariums are, as a rule, very popular among the public, especially among children. This industry has become a big business driven by the attraction of tourists to see these fantastic animals up close and to swim with them. However, the life of these animals in marine parks is totally improper.

According to the CFAF (Change For Animals Foundation) (partner organization of the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA)), there are currently more than 2,000 cetaceans in captivity worldwide, most of them dolphins. Since 1950, more than 5,000 cetaceans have died in captivity. Nowadays, we can find in captivity, among other species, porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, belugas, pilot whales, spotted dolphins, common dolphins or spinner dolphins.

By 2017, there were 58 countries around the world that had dolphins in captivity. These animals are forced to perform entertainment shows in which they perform acrobatics and demonstrations, which have nothing to do with their natural behavior, all in exchange for fish that are given by their trainers. The fact that they are always “trapped” in the tank is responsible for some more aggressive and even self-mutilating. 

Portugal has two dolphinariums, one located in Algarve and the other in Lisbon. Together they reportedly hold a total of 25 bottlenose dolphins. Zoo Marine (Algarve) is the largest of the two dolphinariums and currently holds 21 bottlenose dolphins in captivity.

The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is the most commonly-held species of cetacean in captivity, followed by the killer whale or orca (Orcinus orca). Both species are beautiful and deserve to be preserved and protected. With Futurismo, it is possible to see these two species in the wild. The bottlenose dolphin can be sighted al year-round in Azorean waters, while the orca, even much less common, can be sighted occasionally almost every year.

The natural intelligence of orcas and bottlenose dolphins has made them easy to train and to teach tricks that draw the attention of the general public; but those behaviours, are not necessarily their natural ones. These animals can capture the public’s interest and are indeed a powerful source of economic income for marine parks. However, captive whales and dolphins were, and still are, used predominantly for public entertainment. In order to try to make the idea of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity more acceptable, terms like “education” and “scientific research” have been used as a justification for keeping and acquiring whales and dolphins. They raise awareness towards cetacean conservation, and they do undertake scientific research. However, those arguments are not enough nowadays to keep cetaceans in captivity. Right now, you can use other kind of “on-line” tools to show people the reality; and we have even the opportunity, more and more accessible every day, to observe them in their natural environment. Some time ago, these options were not possible, so dolphinariums and aquariums probably had a more important role on raising awareness. But today… NO WAY!

In their natural environment, bottlenose dolphins and orcas can swim 65-160 km per day, at speeds of up to 40 km / h for dolphins and 55 km / h for orcas. They can also dive up to 28 meters deep. In small shallow tanks, they can only swim in circles and may fall into depression. In their natural environment, bottlenose dolphins can live up to 50-60 years and orcas up to 70 or 90 years. In captivity, many cetaceans die young and life span can be cut by half. In aquariums, dolphins rarely live for more than 20 years

“A life in a tank is so far removed from a cetacean’s natural environment that the effect this has on their mental and physical state is almost inconceivable. In the wild, orcas have been documented to travel more than 9,400 km in 42 days and reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. The largest tank in the world is only 70 m long.  The deepest recorded dive for an orca is more than 400 m, the deepest tank in the world housing an orca is ~12m.” – CFAF.

According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), in the past dolphinariums and marine parks have also tried to keep up to 35 different species of cetaceans, with little success, thus increasing the number of deaths.

Luckily people are increasingly aware of the harm that aquariums can have for animals when they live under stress. The dolphinariums begin to be forbidden and certain parishes begin to take measures. To put an end to captivity, we need to find a place for the captive animals to go. But it is not easy. You can’t simply take a whale or a dolphin out of a captive environment and return them to the ocean. Some may need human care for the rest of their lives, and those who are fit for a return to wildlife will need to relearn the skills they will need to survive.

The creation of sanctuaries has been the proposals made in recent years, as for example two beluga whales captured from the wild and forced to spend their lives performing in a Chinese aquarium are to be flown to freedom in an Icelandic bay. “This will be the world’s first sanctuary created to rehabilitate captive cetaceans such as whales and dolphins”, said a spokesman for Britain’s Sea Life Trust, which is behind the project.

If you want to know more, have a look at:

Don’t choose to see these animals in captivity. Come to the Azores and enjoy with us a responsible whale and dolphin watching tour, in the wild where they are happy! 

 Article by Rodrigo Sousa, marine biologist

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