Under The Surface: Mistreating Dolphins In Captivity

By William McDowell

   The next time you are having fun at SeaWorld watching a dolphin show, keep in mind what is going on behind the scenes. While these shows may seem harmless to many people, what they do not know is how much these dolphins suffer. They are starved and put in extremely small spaces, their life expectancy is dramatically shortened, many end up with depression, and some even kill themselves. 

   A few documentaries have been made to raise awareness on this topic such as “The Cove.” This documentary stars Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer turned activist. After a dolphin he was training died in his arms, he became one of the leading forces in the fight against dolphin captivity for entertainment and started Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project. According to the Dolphin Project, “many captive dolphins are regularly treated with ulcer medication or antidepressant medication to alleviate the frustration of captivity.” 

   Obviously, this is not natural and is just one of the ways dolphins must adapt to captivity. Other ways include invasive procedures, getting blood drawn, a diet of dead fish, and starvation. In a process called positive reinforcement, dolphins are starved so that they are willing to obey orders from trainers when they get small amounts of food for doing so. In addition, dolphins are put in pools instead of roaming the ocean. This can cause problems when fighting dolphins cannot swim away. Dolphins can even show intentions of self-harm by bashing their head into the tanks walls repeatedly or logging. This is when a dolphin intentionally beaches itself out of the tank. 

   In addition to losing mental stability, dolphins also deteriorate physically when in captivity. They get sunburned and their skin blisters due to constantly being so close to the surface of the water. They also can get permanent eye damage because of the chlorine put into the tanks. Often, their skin becomes raw or bruised because of guest handling in addition to inescapable bullying from tankmates. 

   The next time you are thinking about going to a dolphin show, remember what you are contributing to and how it affects the lives of the so called “stars” of the show. One way to help is by donating to foundations like Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project or simply educating others about why using dolphins for entertainment is wrong. By doing this, you can help fuel the fight against dolphin captivity so these dolphins can live a free, happy life.