Seemingly it would go without saying that we shouldn’t swim with dolphins in captivity because they are wild animals that need an ocean of space and don’t belong in tanks. But, for those who need more:
Wild dolphins in captivity have been taken from their family and pods, a traumatic experience. This is still happening to feed the captive dolphin industry.
Dolphins bred in captivity will come from forcibly impregnated mothers to continue having more captive dolphins tourists will pay to swim with.
The condition of tanks is not suitable for dolphins to live long, happy, healthy lives, so they shouldn’t be kept in tanks.
With this being widely accepted, tour companies in select locations have started offering swims and dives with wild dolphins. After all, if those dolphins live with the entire ocean at their disposal, with their families intact, if they can come and go as they please, shouldn’t we be able to swim with them?
The answer is no. Swimming with dolphins, even in the wild, isn’t a great idea. More so, it is an irresponsible tourist attraction, unhealthy for the animals and potentially the humans involved.
1. Swimming With Dolphins Disrupts Their Natural Behavior
While it can happen naturally from time to time that dolphins join humans for a swim, it isn’t a normal occurrence and certainly not one that occurs with regularity. Swimming with humans doesn’t benefit the lives of dolphins, and when coerced or persuaded to do so by tourist vessels, it downright disrupts them.
For example, this is especially the case with wild spinner dolphins near Egypt. These animals feed at night and rest during the day. The onslaught of tourists and boats coming into their space has caused dramatic drops in population numbers because they aren’t getting sufficient rest.
2. Wild Dolphins Attack Humans Several Times a Year
Humans and dolphins aren’t really meant to occupy the same habitats, and because dolphins are amazing, it’s easy for humans to forget they are also incredibly large, efficient hunters. They are capable of seriously injuring people and even killing them. They aren’t sharks, exactly, but dolphin attacks are on the rise in recent years.
Another thing to be aware of is when food becomes involved in the interaction. Dolphins shouldn’t be fed by people in the wild. It creates an unnatural expectation between the two animals that can result in aggressive behavior from the dolphin. Or a person whose food isn’t being taken.
3. Boats Are Dangerous For Dolphins and Swimmers
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of swimming in the wild with dolphins, particularly on popular tours, is that it creates a situation where boats are moving around in areas full of swimmers and dolphins. This greatly increases the chase of either a person or an animal being harmed by the boat.
Additionally, if dolphins became accustomed to the sound of snorkelers and the boats carrying them equating to food, then they are likely to change their behavior and go towards the boats in search of food. This can equate to more dolphins being struck by boats and/or propellers, as well as getting tangled in fishing gear.
4. Handsy People Could Spread Diseases To Dolphins
As sure as we are tempted to dive into the ocean to swim with dolphins, many of us will struggle to resist touching them while in the process. However, dolphins aren’t meant to be touched by humans, and we represent a possible carrier of bacteria or viruses that can have a negative effect on these fellow mammals.
Dolphins have many of the same diseases and viruses as humans. Our pollution has caused a lot of this, but exposure to infected humans—even in the disinfecting salt water—may cause issues.
5. It’s Illegal to Harass Dolphins
It is actually illegal to feed or harass wild marine mammals, including dolphins, porpoises, whales, seals, sea lions, and manatees. The NOAA suggests staying at least 150 feet away from marine animals when observing them.
“Harassment” includes disturbing their natural behavior, which intentionally going out to swim with them does.
In short, it’s great to be fascinated with dolphins. It’s great to go to places where they might be seen and have a look for them. It’s a different story when we decide we have the right to swim with them as a tourist attraction. Wild animals are put in danger and are often dangerous when humans take things too far.
This article by Jonathon Engels was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 1 February 2023.
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