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‘Swim-With-Dolphins’ Programs

In tourist-driven “swim-with” programs, dolphins are denied everything that is important to them. People are captivated by these fascinating marine mammals, but dolphins used in swim-with programs continue to live in misery long after travelers return home with their pictures and memories. Most captive dolphins die prematurely and live to only half the age of their wild brothers and sisters.

Dolphins have distinct personalities, can recognize themselves in mirrors, and can think about the future. Scientists at Emory University performed brain scans on dolphin species and found that the cerebral cortex and the neocortex of bottlenose dolphins were so large that dolphins’ cognitive capacity is second only to humans. Thomas White, professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University says, “The scientific research suggests that dolphins are ‘non-human persons’ who qualify for moral understanding as individuals.”

In the wild, dolphins swim together in family pods up to 100 miles a day. They navigate by bouncing sonar waves off objects to determine location and distance. In captivity, their ocean worlds are reduced to claustrophobic swimming pools.

Laws: Few and Far Between

Although captive dolphins in the United States are afforded bare minimal protections, programs outside the U.S. are often governed by few, if any, laws. Throughout the Caribbean, dolphins are kept in small pools or polluted sea pens. Debris and trash left in or near these pools, such as plastic bags, sunglasses, or the paper used to wrap the “fish food,” can be ingested by the animals, causing acute gastrointestinal problems and sometimes even death. Driven by greed, many facilities operate almost continuously, giving the animals little respite from a constant stream of tourists.

Cruise Line Culpability

Cruise liners are a significant source of customers for swim-with-dolphins programs because most cruise lines promote these offshore excursions. Revenue generated from these side trips is considerable.

In 2005, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises ended its “dolphin encounter” excursions on its Caribbean itinerary citing concern for the dolphins’ well-being.

What You Can Do

  • Review PETA’s factsheet to learn more about the marine mammal industry.
  • The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association strongly defends this cruel moneymaker. Please let the organization know that you disagree.
  • Never patronize one of these programs, and ask every cruiser you know not to buy a swim-with excursion.