One of the main reasons that cetaceans do not thrive in human care is their intelligence. It is a long known fact that whales and dolphins are smart, some people even believe that they are more intelligent than us. Dolphins have even been able to distinguish themselves in a mirror, showing that they have a sense of self, something only a few species have, including humans.
Science has also shown us that these animals have highly advanced social structures, it has even been proven that they are able to distinguish other individuals.
What is even more interesting is that they have a part of the brain that we do not possess. Because these animals are so intelligent is the reason they cannot be kept captive. Dolphinarium environments offer little to no stimulation for these animals, something desperately needed for such a complex species. Without proper enrichment cetaceans can quickly become bored, and will begin to do unnatural stereotypic behaviors such as chewing on concrete walls and gates, laying at the surface for hours (called "logging"), swimming in endless circles, banging against the sides of the tank, etc.
These facilities often tout that their animals are given a variety of toys, but anyone can see that these cannot suffice. A tank, which is bland, boring and sterile, will never compare to the ever changing ocean, which has currents, tides, different species of flora and fauna, different depths, environments, and so on. It is just simply unethical to keep them in a concrete box.
Wide Ranging, Deep Diving
Dolphins and whales have amazing capabilities, including being able to travel vast distances and dive to deep depths. For example, on July 18th, 1992, an orca pod called "AG pod" was recorded to be in the Icy Strait, Southeastern Alaska. Just six days later they were seen in Montague Strait, Prince William Sound. That is a distance of 469 miles! This means that the whales would have had to travel around 74 miles per day.
Another study found that a Southern Resident killer whale, named K33, dove to around 600 feet on a single breath.
So as you can see these animals are able to do incredible feats in the water. However, captive cetaceans are not as lucky.
Whales and dolphins kept in human care cannot accomplish these activities. Often times tanks are so small that their flukes (tail fins) can touch the bottom.
An orca named Lolita currently resides in the smallest killer whale tank in North America, 80' by 35' - the Miami Seaquarium. Considering that Lolita is 21 feet long, this tank is much too small for a whale of her size.
Other cetaceans such as bottlenose dolphins, a highly energetic species, cannot be kept in the small confines of a tank either. SeaWorld Orlando's "Dolphin Theater", which houses bottlenose, is akin to that of small backyard pools. These animals can travel hundreds of miles a day, and a small, barren, concrete tank will never be suitable for them.
Photo credits: Orca Network and vladimir1973.
When deciding whether or not a animal is suitable for a captive environment, one has to take into count the size of the animal in question. Cetaceans are the largest marine mammals in the world (depending on the species), as such they need very spacious living areas. Even the average bottlenose dolphin can grow up to be 10 or 15 feet long! Unfortunately, many cetacean habitats are not large enough. Often times they are much too small for the animal they are harboring, such as the aforementioned orca Lolita, who lives in a small 80' by 35' foot tank.
Cetaceans face many problems in captivity that they would never normally face in the wild. Unlike other animals, cetaceans cannot, and will never be able to thrive in human care. Even though we know this, companies still continue to exploit these beautiful, powerful, majestic beings by using them as cheap entertainment for people. We can stop others from doing this by doing one, simple action: Do not buy a ticket to an aquarium, zoo, or marine park that houses dolphins, whales, or porpoises. Listed below are some of the many reasons why cetaceans cannot be kept in captivity.
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