Dolphins and Whales in captivity
Dolphins in captivity are trained to perform through ‘operant conditioning'. In simple terms, this system uses food as a reward for reinforcement behaviours, that the trainer wishes to increase and restricts or withdraws food as a punishment for behaviour that the trainer wants to reduce. For many animals trained this way it means that satisfaction of hunger is dependent on the performance of tricks; for others, hunger is deliberately induced so the training will be effective.
Captive dolphins are often trained to perform tricks that people can relate to. Movement of the pectoral flippers is seen by us, as if, the dolphins waving - it isn’t. Vocalising appears that the Dolphins are “speaking” to the human crowd - they aren’t. Sometimes dolphins swim directly up to tourists entering the water, this looks like the Dolphins welcome the interaction with humans - they don’t. In reality, these are human responses to the dolphin's actions. They are unnatural behaviours learned by the dolphins in training.
Captive dolphins work 12-hour days without a break. They will be performing for the public or forced to take part in petting pool encounters. During performances or petting sessions, they are subjected to loud music and the noise of people splashing water or slapping the sides of the tank to get their attention. In petting pools the dolphins' suffer further from the chlorinated water irritating their skin and eyes and people placing items such as sunglasses and caps on them, placing junk food in their mouths in a cruel attempt to get the perfect picture for their social media.
This causes untold stress and anxiety in the dolphins who suffer severely from the stressful unnatural situation.
One comment comes up time and time again from people who visit dolphin parks - the dolphin must be having a good time because it was smiling! NOT TRUE!
Dolphins cannot move their facial muscles to communicate inner feelings like humans can. Dolphins appear to smile even while injured or seriously ill. The smile is a feature of a dolphin's anatomy unrelated to its health or emotional state. People are “taken in” by the dolphin's ‘smile' and assume they are gentle, willing playmates. People forget that these are wild animals and the smile is simply an anatomical quirk, that bears no relation to the dolphin's emotional state. You wouldn’t dream of putting your children in a cage with lions or tigers, but natural caution appears lost around dolphins.
Dolphins are large, powerful predators, and perfectly capable of injuring people. There have been incidents at marine parks where dolphin’s have pushed people to deeper water by head-jerking and biting, just as they would in the wild. Injury reports include broken bones and skin abrasions.
Dolphins should be treated with respect. Every time someone buys a ticket to a show that holds captive dolphins, they contribute to the suffering of these remarkable creatures. Just like any other business, the dolphin shows are based on supply and demand. As long as people are willing to buy tickets to watch dolphins, they will be kept in captivity and trained to perform for audiences.
We can all do something to stop dolphin shows - stop buying tickets!