Dolphin show with five dolphins jumping over a rope

A day in the life of a captive dolphin


Dolphins in captivity endure stress day after day, made to perform tricks in order to be fed, surrounded by loud noise, and trapped in tiny tanks

Please note – this story is fictional and for illustrative purposes only.

It’s the early hours of the morning at the marine park and a splashing noise is coming from a small concrete tank of water. The sides are painted blue to give the impression that it’s natural like the ocean. But in fact, it’s shallow - only a few meters deep. An overpowering smell of chlorine hangs in the air. 

In the tank, a dolphin is frantically swimming away from four others that she shares the pool with. They are not her friends or family. She would never choose to live with them in the wild as they are aggressive and pick on her. They chase her around the pool, trying to bite her tail and jab their snouts into her side. She tried to swim away from them, but the enclosure is so tiny there’s nowhere she can go.

Act now for dolphins

Captive dolphin in Mexico

Trapped in captivity

This 25-year-old dolphin has been living in captivity for 20 years. Before this she was in the wild, socializing and playing with her friends and family in a group of up to 12 others. With the whole ocean as their home, they never needed to fight over a lack of space and would roam up to 100 square km a day.

The sun is rising, and intense heat begins to radiate down into the pool, burning the dolphin’s back. Sunlight bounces off the shiny edges of the concrete box, creating a blinding glare that hurts her eyes. There’s no point in her searching for shade. It won’t appear until the sun goes down again. Her eyes are burning from the chlorine that’s needed to make the water safe for humans.

Her home in the ocean was interesting and exciting – a rich environment that stimulated all her senses. The barren tank in which she is now trapped has nothing to occupy her. There are bars at the edge of the enclosure so sometimes she gnaws on them for something to do. She’s done this so often her teeth are damaged, and some nerves are exposed. It causes her agony whenever she opens her mouth.

Captive dolphins in Mexico

Trained to endure suffering

A clanging noise rings through the park as the heavy barred gate leading to her enclosure is unlocked and swings open. A man calls to her. She swims to him, recognizing this sound as a sign she will soon be given something to eat. She is very hungry, and she knows what to do because she has been relentlessly conditioned to perform for her food every day for the last 20 years.

The trainer gestures to her and, as she’s been taught, she jumps into the air. He makes another sign with his arms so she ‘stands up’ on her tail and ‘walks’ backwards through the water. She never did this in the wild – this is a new movement she was taught when she first arrived. It is unnatural and uncomfortable. But, being so intelligent, she understands that this is the only way she would be rewarded with something to eat. The repetition and boredom are torturous for her.

Captive dolphin jumping out of the tank to do a trick

In the ocean her pod used their sensitive hearing and echolocation system to locate food. They spoke to each other using clicks and squeaks and would take turns to feast on a variety of live fish. These hunts excited and stimulated her and every mealtime was different from the last. She never used to get tired as she had a rich and varied diet that made her strong and energetic. Now, it is the same dead fish for every meal that barely sustain her. She is given vitamins, but it doesn’t make up for the lack of nutrients and poor quality water making her tired and dehydrated.

The trainer dives into the pool and tightly grabs her fin. She pulls the man through the water, feeling an uncomfortable tugging on her body. The crowd cheer as he raises a hand and waves at them. Another dolphin moves next to her and they propel the man out of the water with the end of their snouts. The heavy pressure is uncomfortable, but the crowd scream even louder in delight.

Dolphins performing tricks

Meet the dolphins: Interaction at the cost of exploitation 

Finally, the show ends. But there there’s no time to rest. She’s moved into another pool so tourists can meet her. As people get closer, they scream and shout which startles and scares her. They pet her and press their faces up against her snout. It is intrusive and stressful.

Occasionally her breathing hole is accidentally covered, so she panics and lashes out by trying to bite them. She can’t help behaving like this – after all, she’s a wild animal and all her instincts to protect herself are still there. After an hour of being petted she is rewarded with another tiny portion of fish.

Swim with dolphins experience in Cuba

A routine of misery

She wants to rest – she’s exhausted from performing and the constant noise. But before she can she’s trained for another hour. She’s given some food, not every time she does something right but just enough to make sure she’ll do what she’s told just in case.

She’s moved back into the tiny tank with the four dolphins that bully her. She can’t relax because she knows they will soon begin chasing her again and she will need to try and swim away to avoid being hurt.

Tomorrow, it will all happen again. The same day she has endured for the last 20 years. It will never be different, this entertainment for tourists, but for dolphins it’s an endless cycle of suffering.

You can help

Join us in making this the last generation of dolphins to suffer as entertainers. Donate today to support our work moving travel companies to stop selling tickets to these venues, and educating the public about the true suffering that goes on behind the scenes.

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The same day she has endured for the last 20 years. It will never be different, this entertainment for tourists, but for dolphins it’s an endless cycle of suffering.

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