About dolphins in captivity

by firmm Team

Bottlenose Dolphins
Watching Bottlenose Dolphins in the wild with firmm

Text: Dominique Geysen

Because of the summer holiday season, I did observe several friends who chose to visit dolphinariums as a family activity and wanted to share my experience on the subject with you.

Somewhere between 1998 and 2007 I have been professionally involved through several projects with marine mammal foundation firmm. Also, throughout my 2400 days embarked as a seaman I have encountered many whales and dolphins in freedom while sailing around our Oceans. I have even been blessed with occasional underwater encounters as a diver in locations like The Galapagos, French Polynesia or even Mallorca. With this, I believe to have gained enough insight in order to give you a valuable perspective on my reality towards Dolphins in captivity.

Let's look at it from a dolphin's point of view

From what is known, dolphins could be swimming between 100 and 200 km/day and offshore Killer Whales could well be swimming up to 400 km/day. By locking these animals up in a 50x10 meter pool (if so) a valid comparison, towards us humans, would be to lock-up someone in a toilet cabinet for some years. In addition, when captured, many youngsters are separated from their pod at young age and will be joined into a pool with dolphins of a different pod or even specie. The language of the individual is therefore different in many aspects, and the intensity of their clicks resonates exponentially in a closed basin like a pool. I trust your imagination to further expand your vision on the subject.

In order to keep the animals docile and not to freak them out, the dead fish they get fed with are injected with tranquilizers and antibiotics. The second one, in order to avoid skin problems due to the poor pool water quality. It is known that their obedience is gained through exchange with food, sometimes pushing the limit of starvation to obtain satisfactory tricks execution towards the trainers’ expectations for shows.

The fact that the life expectancy of these captive mammals is drastically reduced by all the above will probably make sense to you now.

The efforts and goal of Mr. Ric O’Barry to close down all dolphinarium in the world is grounded on his experience as former trainer of the famous dolphin called “Flipper”. He has lived the crude reality of the marine mammal captive business in person from inside for many years. I encourage you to read about his amazing journey. (www.dolphinproject.com)

Orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar
Orcas can cover distances of up to 400 km per day

My experience with dolphinariums

Somewhere between 2003 and 2006, firmm® had the initiative to build a dolphin-sanctuary in Morocco. The idea to retire dolphinarium dolphins in a closed open-sea bay could offer the possibility to help other wild marine mammals with problems, was appealing to me. After years of efforts the project eventually never took place but gave me additional insight on the activities happening inside dolphinariums too. Not only was I involved with plans of building this harbour/bay facility, but also was I invited to visit a dolphinarium to see if I could purchase dolphins in order to retire them from shows.

During that specific visit I was invited to talk to a “specialized trainer” who was in charge of gathering autistic children with Dolphins in the pool. It is believed that the caring nature of these mammals could have an impact on the behaviour of autistic children. Some pretend it could lighten or even cure the syndrome. When the autistic children, equipped with a lifejacket, were guided by their arm to position themselves to be approached by a bottlenose dolphin, the encounter took place without difficulty.

Therapeutic effectiveness of dolphin therapies could not be proven – but they make money.

The big dollars were cashed-in for a non-guaranteed 15-20 min. experience in the pool, and it was “all happening” for the parents sitting in the tribunes. I cannot judge on this topic not being a specialized doctor, but only can express the stressed feeling of my stomach which turned into a knot when I saw one of the parents observing his child from head to toe expecting something could have changed when out of the water again. I do not wish to judge the reaction of that parent not being a parent myself of a child with this syndrome. I suppose that the commercialization of this whole show is probably what disgusted deeply.

An unforgettable experience

To cheer you up, and out of respect for these beautiful and charismatic animals, I personally only had a kind of a similar comparative experience. While snorkelling in open sea with some friends we were approached by wild dolphins. They were only interested in one woman of the group and surrounded her. Something about her made them curious obviously, and it nearly felt as they were protecting her. For some reason someone was just naturally joking by saying she could be pregnant, which later was proven to be the case. We believed the dolphins could have sensed the second heartbeat of the baby through their echolocation and just congratulated her?

The dolphinarium are still a legal business in many parts of the world and you are therefore free to visit these by all means. Just realise that by doing so, you engage your personal responsibility of being part of providing these businesses and their practices extra strength.

Some people, including me, consider dolphinariums unethical and cruel!

Capt. Dom

Go back