Dolphins are Better off in Captivity

Before this post, I will tell you that I fully intended this title to be written in “sarcastic” font. I recently participated in a dolphin swim in Jamaica as a part of a wonderful press trip with the Jamaican Tourism Board  However, I left the dolphin swim not only feeling disappointed but also in disbelief over the answers received when I scratched only the surface of questioning a site manager. Yes, I participated in the dolphin swim.  Yes, I thought the swim was a lot of fun.  Yes, I understand why people want to participate in the event. But just because something is fun does not, by any stretch of the imagination, make it right.

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Dolphin Cove

Dolphin at Dolphin Cove

Upon arrival to Dolphin Cove near Negril, Jamaica myself and a small group of journalists were given the chance to hear about the property, the activities, and the animals we were about to see. The journalist in me couldn’t help but ask a few questions. I was hoping to receive better answers, but I guess I have to give it to the manager answering my questions honestly, even though they were not the answers anyone would want to hear. I scratched only the surface in my questioning, I did not feel like creating a conflict in front of the group. And it seemed that the group did not feel they wanted to dig deeper either, so I let things slide.  Here are my questions and the answers I received (please note that I am paraphrasing his answers, but they are in no way taken out of context):

Me: Where do you get your dolphins from?

Manager: Cuba, they came here on a plane.

Me: Are they rescued or do you capture them?

Manager: They capture them, then bring them on a plane.

Me: Why?

Manager: To bring them here. We are protecting them.

Me: Protecting them from what? Nature?

Manager (obviously becoming frustrated with my questions): They are in danger in nature, one has a scratch from a shark attack, we are protecting them. Here they have food, shelter, and they are happy with the human interaction. It’s dangerous out there, humans are the leading causes of death in Dolphins. Look at the fence, it’s three feet high, if they wanted to leave they could, they could jump it. They like it here.

Dolphin Cove

The dolphin enclosure at Dolphin Cove

The truth is that the Dolphin Cove does take extremely good care of the animals. The lagoon that they have to swim in is absolutely huge, a proper lake really. The trainers are all really great, and the animals are given ample time by themselves. However, the treatment of the dolphins isn’t what I’m about to question, but the ethics involved in taking animals from the wild for entertainment value.

Although I bit my tongue the best I could during my questioning, I really wanted to ask the site manager how he would feel if taken from his family and environment. If we went into his house, shipped him, on a plane, to the Arctic of Russia and dropped him down at an all-inclusive resort in the cold how he would feel. Yes, he would be treated like a king. He would be given food, shelter, and all he physically needs. But there is a difference between good treatment and dependence. Dolphins, like people, are social animals that build and sustain relationships. To take either dolphins or people away from this social community is a crime. Yes the fence at Dolphin Cove is only 3 feet high, but the social wall that they have placed by taking them out of their environment is insurmountable.

At the moment the Dolphin Cove has 6 dolphins all given fun names, the attraction is aiming to get another 4 dolphins by the end of the year. Please do your part to make sure that these dolphins do not get taken from the wild. Contact the Dolphin Cove and let them know how you feel about their operation by visiting Dolphin Cove and giving them a shout.

Dolphin Cove

Shakira… or one of the other Dolphins at the Cove

I know that I’m no saint, but I can tell the difference between right and wrong. And to me, taking an animal from the wild to put on display for us is all wrong. Yes, I understand that by educating people of an animal it can create a greater appreciation to their cause. But the Dolphin Cove, unfortunately, is not about creating a cause, they are about gaining a dollar. Not only is Dolphin Cove home to the 6 dolphins but also sharks, sting rays, and a camel (yes, you read that right a camel in Jamaica).

Do I feel guilty about taking part in events at Dolphin Cove? Absolutely. But in the end it made me realize more and more that no matter how much joy and pleasure it gave me, it wasn’t worth the theft of a life; nothing is.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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33 Comments

  1. I have also swum with dolphins and the ethical issues never entered my mind. The issue that you highlight here is a perfect example of society’s arbitrary approach to animal welfare which is shadowed by the commercial gain and personal enjoyment this brings.

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  2. Your ethical plight is understood but the swim with the dolphin programs helps both the local community and the dolphins too. The local community needs jobs and tourists, especially on these poor Caribbean islands. About the dolphins, the few that are caught, are treated better than most humans, and those few that are caught, educate and inform many guests about dolphins. Remember these few dolphins is what many people want to protect and help the wild dolphins. I think its a fair trade off.

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    • @Dolphin Swim… Please tell me how being treated better than humans makes it right to take them from their habitat? If someone was to steal your child and treat them better than you do, would it make it right? Look, I’m all for places that rescue animals, but steal them, no. The idea that humans are more important than dolphins because “they give people jobs and money” is, I’m sorry, no excuse. Thank you for your input, and I respect your opinion…. but fair trade off? I’m sorry… but I don’t agree.

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      • You come from a developed country. Canada. Jamaica, a developing country thrives on tourism. Taking dolphins from their natural habitats is ‘wrong’ however many people gain a livelihood from the operations at Dolphin Cove. Perhaps you should write about Taiji in Japan which not only take 100s upon 100s of these animals from their habitats but also slaughters them. I believe your writing is totally biased. Don’t pick on the smaller people.

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        • I’m not an environmental journalist, I’m a travel journalist. So, yeah, I agree that the Japanese are abusing animals and it should be stopped. But being a poor country is a terrible excuse for exploiting animals. Especially since the owners of this establishment are NOT poor. Worst excuse I’ve ever heard for this establishment, Bella.

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    • You are about to be captured and relocated forever you idiot. Everything and everyone you’ve ever known is gone. Enjoy your new permanent existence. Moron.

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    • Treated better than humans? Maybe humans in prison! They are wild animals that like you and me, want to be free! Maybe we should protect our oceans, learn how to stimulate economies while sustaining our natural resources and stop using nature as our own personal profitable wares!

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  3. Dolphins are my favorite animals in the world, and it saddens me to hear of stories of abuse. Just because they’re friendly doesn’t mean we should abuse that. Sometimes, people give the impression that they’re saving them, but the truth is, they’re just using them for their own selfish and greedy interests. And you have put that point very well here – thank you.

    I’d like think these dolphins would prefer the risks in the wild because they have the freedom to interact rather than stay in captivity even with all the luxuries they’re offered with. I know I’d feel that way if I were a dolphin. I hope people only capture dolphins when these animals are hurt in order to heal them but not to earn a dollar or two from them.

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    • @Cherszy – Thank you for your comment, I’m right on board with what you’re saying. I think often we misplace treating dolphins well with doing the right thing.

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  4. I agree with you completely. These kind of experiences can be fun and enjoyable, but at what cost? How much is a few moments of human happiness really worth? I especially like your analogy about taking the manager away from his home to a nice resort.

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    • @ Carolyn – Thanks for commenting! I’m glad the article resonated.

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  5. I’ve done this twice and it brought me to tears both times. I thought it was ok because they were in good conditions, and not actually used for “entertainment” i.e. they weren’t made to jump through hoops or anything. Any interaction was entirely voluntary, in fact, in one case we were told we could observe but never, ever touch. It was afterwards, and particularly after seeing “The Cove” that I realized how awful it is that we do this. In the wild dolphins swim up to 100 miles a day, so matter how grand the pool they are still in “prison”. If you see “The Cove” you will learn about the “side effects” of capturing dolphins for these places too, which are absolutely horrific.

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    • @Linda – Thanks for commenting. The Cove was a great look in.

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  6. Good post- wondering if you’ve seen “The Cove” btw? (I’m sure this will be a common question.)

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    • @Yvette – Yeah, I saw it before I did this on the recommendation of a friend. It was a really good exposee

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  7. I fully agree with you Brendan. I wasn’t satisfied with the answers you were given and felt awful for those dolphins. It was irritating that the manager was blinded by the almighty dollar and couldn’t admit that there was anything wrong with they way they did business.

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    • Completely agree Reid, I really thought that was the one black mark on our Jamaica Press Trip.

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  8. There is a HUGE difference between places that steal dolphins from the wild for the sole purpose of making money and places that really do rehabilitate dolphins that have been injured or displaced from their social group or damaged in some way due to human intervention.

    I think it’s great when the latter type of place does educational programming and/or allows folks to interact with the animals (if the dolphins really wouldn’t be able to survive in their natural habitat due to whatever injury they had).

    But seriously – stealing dolphins from one part of the world and *flying* them to a resort so they can do tricks for the entertainment of humans? How is that in any way morally defensible? Because it’s really not.

    (Which isn’t a criticism directed at you, Brendan – more a counterpoint to the argument that it’s a “fair trade-off”.)

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    • Agreed Christy… I agree with everything you’ve said. It’s sad really.

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  9. I watched “The Cove” last year (seriously everyone should watch it, especially if you are reading this article) and was so upset by the film. Basically it is about the stealing of dolphins in Japan and they get sold for entertainment. Any not sold are then killed (no matter how many there are) and eaten unsuspectingly by the Japanese in the town.
    I refuse to go to Aquarium’s and Zoo’s now because I hate seeing the captured animals. Great post and I think the more people that can share this the better!

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  10. I have worked as an animal trainer and I too would question why a facility would get animals from the wild instead of another facility. We have plenty of dolphins in captivity worldwide, and more than 70% have been born into that way of life. The problem is the laws associated with transfering animals between different parks, states, and countries. Because of the paperwork and finances involved, facilities find it easier and quicker to get animals from the wild. It’s the sad truth.

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    • @Tiffany – thanks for your insight, I’m glad to get a bit of an insider look. And I think you’re probably right, it may be easier to get them from the wild than jump through bureaucratic loops.

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  11. It’s somewhat disturbing how others rationalize their behaviours at times. I’m glad to hear, at least that in this situation, the dolphins appear to be taken care of; however, depriving a creature of its natural habitat and social networks is definitely an unfortunate situation.

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  12. I agree. These animals are probably more affected than we think. What was happening to them when humans weren’t as aware of preserving them? They were still the “neighbors” of the sharks.

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  13. I wrote a paper about this for an Environmental Ethics class. Yes, doing this does bring jobs, but so do whale and dolphin watching programs. There you can see the animals in their natural habitat, and it does no harm to the animals. The economics of the situation then remains unchanged. In reference to the comment about the dolphins being able to “jump” the fence if they wanted to, this is false. Dolphins cannot see out of the water, and the fences often frighten them. To them behind the fence represents something unknown and frightening. They might be intelligent animals, but they do not equate “beyond the fence” as freedom. That’s ridiculous. Also, it is known that dolphins and whales are the only animals that have been known to commit suicide. This is what happened to the legendary captive dolphin Flipper. Dolphins need air to breath, and some of them have been reported to hold themselves underwater until they can no longer breath. Dolphins are pack animals, they long for their families, they mourn their dead. They do not belong in captivity.

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  14. I couldn’t agree more. I have been all about trying to educate people about their impact of paying to swim with dolphins. I was very upset when my family went on a cruise this year and every single one of them (13 people) swam with the dolphins even after I pleaded for them not to. This is actually where we were. I didn’t go while they did this to show them how much it bothered me. They didn’t care. It was all about their fun. And yes, we got the same answers about how the dolphins would rather be in captivity, where they don’t have to hunt for food and if they wanted to leave they could. I also noticed how shallow and rocky the other side of the wall is. I don’t buy it. Thanks for spreading the word!

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    • have any of these 13 family members watched Blackfin?
      they should be required to see the ugly truth rather than just hear about it second hand.
      10 percent of the human population is sociopathic or psychopathic
      which is why religion was invented, since fear of retribution in the afterlife are the main factors in having those incapable of empathy make the effort of restraining themselves.
      another factor in the disregard for nonhuman lifeforms is the supremacist presumption that only humans are capable of emotions or that animals were put here by god for us to exploit.

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  15. Hi Brendan,
    I actually visited Dolphin Cove as well about 2 years ago. I remember enjoying my time with the dolphins but couldn’t shake the ethical questions I was asking myself the entire time.

    Since then I’ve become involved with animal conservation and I don’t think I would do it again with all that I’ve learned. However, I think the problem lies in educating the people who own these establishments. The truth is we will never eliminate them. But if we can educate them on the actual process and help them understand why its a bad idea and show them other options we might at least make an impact.

    While I was there I decided to stay in the water while everyone got out to look at their pictures. I guess since its so laid back no one noticed except one of the trainers sons who was maybe 7 or 8. He decided to hang back with me and play with a baby dolphin. It was a very young dolphin and it was obviously born there. It says a lot about the condition of the animals since (like elephants) will only mate if they are emotionally happy. While some may not agree with dolphins being born into captivity it is a much better option. Since the debate is more about HOW they acquire the dolphins and not how they’re treated I think the only option is to find away to save the dolphins that are being treated unethically and reward those who do everything they can to give them a high quality of life without taking them away from the wild.

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  16. I’ve heard lots of negative things about these kinds of dolphin encounters – that they are taken from the wild and held in captivity to essentially perform for humans. Of course they would be better off in the wild, living in their own pods! I’ve always been interested in helping animals and I’m against all places that hold animals in captivity really…so I’m glad to see you bring light to this subject! I think that the movie Blackfish really brought this topic to the forefront, which is very pleasing! Thank you for posting this!

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    • Man, such a shame. Such a sham!

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