Hundreds of whales and dolphins (known collectively as cetacea) are held in zoos and dolphinaria across the world. Many have been taken from the wild, deprived of their freedom and choice, and trained to perform unnatural behaviour in an alien environment or interact with humans for swim-with activities.
In the wild, whales and dolphins can swim as much as 160km a day, travelling in social groups of between three and 30 related individuals, known as pods. However, in captivity, the situation is very different. Captive facilities cannot compare to the vast, complex natural environment of the wild dolphin and even the largest facilities offer just a fraction of a dolphin’s wild range. Research indicates that the stress of confinement often results in behavioural abnormalities, illness, decreased resistance to disease and may reduce life expectancy.
The number of dolphins bred in captivity does not replace the number that die and so is unsustainable. They suffer from high mortality rates, low breeding success and often endure physical and psychological disorders. Therefore dolphins are frequently captured from the wild and sold into captivity. The methods of capture, and subsequent transport, can be extremely cruel and some dolphins die of shock or injury in the process.
Taking this issue to an international stage, Born Free raises awareness about the plight of dolphins and whales in captivity, campaigns against their continued capture from the wild to maintain the captive industry, challenges their use in swim-with activities and campaigns for their inclusion in national and international animal welfare legislation.
At least 19 different species of cetacean are currently held in captivity around the world, including over 800 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Captive dolphins have become a regular feature in tourist resorts. A trained bottlenose dolphin can generate $1 million a year.
Dolphins bred in captivity do not sustain their numbers. Therefore they are frequently captured from the wild and sold into captivity. Wild dolphins are a wide-ranging animals with complex social networks and hunting behaviour which the captive environment is unable to provide for. Many suffer from behavioural abnormalities, illness and premature death.
For more information, download our fact sheets on Dolphins in captivity and Swimming with dolphins.
Factsheet on dolphins in captivity
There are at least 78 facilities worldwide offering the opportunity for members of the public to swim with dolphins; 71% of these are in North America and the Caribbean, holding at least 730 bottlenose dolphins in captivity.
Factsheet on swimming with dolphins.
There are at least 59 facilities exhibiting captive whales and dolphins in Europe, many of which are known to provide some facility for people to swim with the animals.