by Mia Taylor
Last updated: 5:37 PM ET, Mon November 11, 2019
A comprehensive new report from the global animal-welfare organization, World Animal Protection, says the practice of keeping dolphins in captivity and using them for entertainment is "extreme animal cruelty" perpetuated by unethical travel companies.
The report, Behind the Smile, says unsuspecting tourists are fueling a multibillion-dollar industry while travel companies, including such household names as Expedia, are reaping the rewards.
"Millions of animal lovers every year are led to believe that dolphin shows and experiences sold by some of the world's largest travel companies are cruelty-free, educational, and beneficial for conservation efforts," states the new report. "This could not be further from the truth. Rather, the industry is reaping billions of dollars in profits off the cruel captivity of dolphins kept for entertainment."
The report goes on to outline the massive scale and profitability of the multibillion-dollar dolphin entertainment industry, highlighting the industry's links with the corporate investment industry and the suffering of more than 3,000 dolphins for the money that's made from their labor.
From being captured in the wild, to having to undergo captive breeding, to being forced to live in inhumane barren tanks, dolphins suffer at every stage of their captivity, states Behind the Smile, adding that dolphin venues often make "false or exaggerated claims regarding their benefits to conservation, education, and research."
Key additional highlights of the new report include:
-There are 336 dolphin entertainment venues in 54 countries - including the United States, Mexico, China and many countries in the Caribbean - which hold at least 3,029 dolphins captive, and the United States alone has 400 dolphins captive.
-These captive dolphins annually generate a staggering $1.1 to $5.5 billion for the venue owners. This does not include additional income from merchandise, food, sponsorships and accommodations these captive dolphins generate.
-Specifically, in the United States, Miami Seaquarium houses the Pacific white-sided dolphins with an orca named Lolita.
The tank in which Lolita resides is reportedly the smallest in the world for an orca and she has not seen another orca since her tank-mate Hugo died in 1980. Making matters worse, the white-sided dolphins have been recorded routinely attacking Lolita-harassing, chasing and raking her with their teeth, says the report.
Housing different species together in captivity, where there's no room for the animals to avoid each other, frequently leads to increased aggression and discomfort, the report continues.
It also suggests that there's inherent suffering associated with all stages of dolphins' lives in captivity, adding that although dolphins may appear to be smiling, they experience continuous stress and suffering when kept in captivity.
"As the first research report focused exclusively on the smaller species of dolphins and the multibillion-dollar industry that exploits them, it found that more than 3,000 dolphins are forced to live in captivity around the world where they merely survive, not thrive," Julie Cappiello, Wildlife Campaign Manager for World Animal Protection, told TravelPulse.
"Most people love dolphins, but the cruelty of this industry is hidden from view. The truth is, the entertainment industry hides behind the dolphin's anatomical quirk-their smile-but captive dolphins aren't happy to see you," added Cappiello. "If people truly knew the suffering these animals endure, they wouldn't support this industry."
In their natural environment, dolphins swim across a territory of more than 40 miles of ocean freely.
However, when held in tiny, barren, concrete tanks 200,000 times smaller than their natural space - in which they are exposed to infection, chemicals and often drugged to cope with captivity - the dolphins are only able to swim a few feet at a time.
The anxiety and stress can cause them to self-mutilate and become aggressive, states the report.
World Animal Protection is not the first organization to express concerns and opposition to keeping dolphins in captivity for entertainment. PETA has also condemned the practice.
"In captivity, these animals can only swim in endless circles in tanks that are the equivalent of bathtubs, and they are denied the opportunity to engage in almost any natural behavior," notes the PETA website, which goes on to add that captive dolphins are also often housed in incompatible groups, and because of the cramped conditions of their enclosures, are unable to escape conflicts.
In addition, dolphins are often torn away from family members when shuffled between parks.
For those who are not fans of PETA or the organization's take on the matter, it is important to note that many other organizations and researchers have expressed criticism of programs that keep dolphins in captivity.
The death of a four-year-old bottlenose dolphin named Nea at a Chicago zoo several years ago led some biologists to speak out about why the animals shouldn't be kept in captivity for entertainment.
As part of a report in Wired magazine, biologists noted that dolphins are highly intelligent, social and free-spirited creatures and become physically ill and mentally unstable in captivity. The article went on to note that dolphins in marine parks actually have shorter lives than those in the wild.
"It would be absolutely valid to frame [Nea's death] in terms of the captive versus wild mortality rates," Lori Marino, an Emory University neurobiologist who specializes in cetaceans and primates and is a prominent critic of cetacean captivity, told Wired.
The non-profit organization Dolphin Project echoes many of the same criticisms as World Animal Protection, PETA and Marino.
"Dolphins living in captive conditions face circumstances vastly different than those of the ocean. Often they are placed in unfamiliar groupings, with dolphins that have come from different families, making communication between them impossible. Space is limited, which sparks aggression and frustration. The surroundings are bare and sterile, with little mental stimulation or diversion. Many captive dolphins are regularly treated with ulcer medication or antidepressant medication to alleviate the frustration of captivity," states the Dolphin Project website.
Dolphin Project calls on those who want to help to take a pledge not to buy tickets to dolphin shows and to further explore its activism guides.
As for the new World Animal Protect report Behind the Smile, it also suggests that it's misleading to say dolphins in captivity serve conservation purposes.
"Many venues promote the rescue and rehabilitation of dolphins and claim to boost conservation efforts. In fact, as little as five to ten percent of zoos, dolphinariums, and aquariums are involved in substantial conservation efforts," notes Behind the Smile. "The amount other venues spend on conservation is often less than one percent of revenue."
What's more, dolphins bred in captivity are likely never to be released to the wild, and their wild counterparts are not endangered, adds Cappiello.
"They serve no conservation purpose and are merely kept in inhumane conditions for the sake of human entertainment," said Cappiello.
Some leaders in the tourism industry such as Airbnb and the global educational travel organization EF Education First have already cut ties with dolphin venues said World Animal Protection, which is calling on Expedia Group to do the same.
"Dolphins being used as live surfboards and facing large crowds of people daily with loud music and cheering while enduring a never-ending stream of tourists seeking that perfect selfie is not humane entertainment," said World Animal Protection Executive Director Alesia Soltanpanah.
If you'd like to join the movement to call on Expedia Group to end the sale and promotion of venues that use dolphins for entertainment, click here to sign World Animal Protection's petition.
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