Swimming with Dolphins (Captive)

Swimming with dolphins is undoubtedly a magical, and for some a life-affirming experience. Many people list it among their “top ten things I must do”. But, the experience usually isn’t so good for the dolphins.

Dolphin encounters may be harmful to the animals, captive dolphins suffer from stress, deprivation and shortened life expectancy.

What is it?

Swimming with dolphins is an activity offered by marine parks, aquariums or resorts that keep captive dolphins either in tanks or corralled close to the shore. This is different to swimming with wild dolphins.

What you should know

  • Some resorts or parks offer people the opportunity to swim with captive dolphins. This may seem like a wonderful opportunity to get close to these remarkable animals. Sadly, captive dolphins, which have often been taken from the wild, do not take well to captivity. Separated from family groups, and unable to communicate, hunt, roam, play and breed as they would in the wild, captive dolphins often develop behavioural abnormalities, reduced resistance to disease, and illness. Many die prematurely. They also suffer a much higher level of infant mortality in captivity.
  • Training methods for captive dolphins are often cruel, and close contact with people can lead to injury or disease for the dolphins. Captive dolphins have no choice whether they interact with people or not.
  • Dolphins kept in penned-off coastal areas may also suffer during bad weather events, very hot sunny weather, or times of poor water quality. These dolphins cannot escape to safer or cleaner areas.
  • The process of capturing wild dolphins can also be very damaging, with frequent injuries and deaths. The process also disrupts the families and pods of remaining wild dolphins, and can threaten the future of endangered populations.
  • Dolphins are wild animals, and as such can be unpredictable. Close encounters with captive or wild dolphins can result in injuries to people, and dolphins can carry diseases which can potentially affect humans.

What you can do

  • Seeing wild dolphins is a memorable experience, but there are many places where you can watch them from shore, without disturbing them.
  • If you are going to take to the water to watch dolphins, watch them from the boat, and make sure you use an operator who works to recognised standards designed to protect the dolphins from harm. Using an experienced, responsible operator with a resident marine biologist will not only help protect the dolphins, it will also enhance your own experience and knowledge of these wonderful animals.
  • Don’t visit resorts, aquariums, zoos or other attractions that have captive dolphins or other cetaceans, or offer “dolphin shows”.
  • Avoid tour operators or resorts that offer “Swimming with Dolphins” activities, and write to any operators that do expressing your concern.

Where does this occur?

Dolphinariums and marine parks exist in many countries, and many offer people the chance to swim with the dolphins. They are particularly common in China, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Mexico and the USA.

Links to organisations for further information: