Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico

From the moment I arrived at Cancun International Airport in Mexico, I was confronted by tout after tout….all asking if I wanted to “swim with the beautiful dolphins!”  On this point I agree: dolphins are beautiful.  Nonetheless, I looked these men straight in the eye & replied, “Dolphins should not be held in captivity.”  This, of course, sent them scurrying away…off to pester some other unsuspecting tourists.  There’s something about seeing majestic creatures in cages that really irks my soul, & after reading of 20+ horses dying at Santa Anita racetrack this year, I knew it was time to write this article: “Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico.” 

Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico, Girl Who Travels the World

I believe the only place to swim with dolphins is if you’re lucky enough to discover them out in the wild (as pictured here). Photo by John Bertram.

“Imagine if someone stole your son, & put him in an air-box at the bottom of the ocean, & dolphins & fish & whales just came by & stared at him.  Imagine.  And he lives his life like that, with no contact, other than with his ‘dolphin handlers.’  Missing his family, missing his loved ones, missing his life.”

– Joe Rogan, from Podcast #1297, with Phil Demers

Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico

#1: Because of How They Were Captured

How do you think that cute, bottle-nose dolphin ended up in the Dolphin Discovery exhibit in Cancun?  Perhaps, the stork dropped him there..??  Ummm, no.  The reality is a little harsher than that, & if you watch the documentary “Blackfish,” you begin to understand the gut-wrenching process that is capturing marine animals from the wild.  Unless an animal was born in captivity under a breeding program, or found stranded on a beach, the reality is: they were captured in the wild, most likely taken from their pod & family.  Often, the baby is taken from the mother & then the mother is slaughtered, because the baby is more “trainable.” 

Watch this short, 1-minute clip below from “Blackfish,” about how baby dolphins are captured from their mothers.

Most countries have banned the capture of whales & dolphins ~ yet Russia, Japan, & Cuba still defy international laws by capturing & selling both (Chinese water parks currently have the greatest demand for them).  And the actual transport process is so long, arduous, & INHUMANE, that many of these creatures often die, are harmed, or otherwise traumatized by it ~ if they weren’t already traumatized by being removed from the ocean & their families.

Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico

#2: Because Animals this Smart Aren’t Meant to Live in a Cage 

How smart are dolphins?  Well, for starters, they make use of a language so complex, researchers who’ve been studying it for twenty years still can’t figure it out!?  Dolphins have the second largest brain size (relative to body size) of any mammal, except humans ~ & bottle-nose dolphins actually have larger brains than we do.  Dolphins display empathy, altruism, & even grieve their dead ~ again, much like humans.  We cannot underestimate what it means to a mother dolphin when her child is taken from her; the loss on both sides is so great, that it may in fact be one of the reasons dolphins in captivity, particularly males, rarely live as long as dolphins in the wild. 

“We know that [these animals] stay with their families for a lifetime.  The males rarely leave the mother’s side.  [In working with male orcas, walruses, dolphins, beluga whales, & seals at Marine Land], you can see that something is missing; they’ve been traumatized in some way.  The males [always] die younger.  I think, definitely in the orcas & dolphins’ cases, they just don’t have that will to live without that strong, maternal figure in their life.”

– Phil Demers, Former Aquatic Trainer at Marine Land in Canada

So you take these very smart, very social animals away from their families, & place them in an enclosure equivalent to placing a human in a closet for the rest of its life.  In the wild, dolphins swim up to 40 miles PER DAY, up to 16 hours PER DAY.  This is what they were meant to do.  In the wild, they follow natural migration patterns.  In captivity, of course, this is impossible.  They swim in circles over & over, in small, shallow tanks.  It’s no wonder that many of them die young, whether of boredom, loneliness, or as you’ll read later, even psychosis. 

You can listen to Joe Rogan’s fascinating podcast with whale expert Phil Demers, formerly of Marine Land, below:

Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico

#3: Because Their Living Conditions Cause Harm to Themselves & Others

 [Keeping orcas & dolphins in tanks is comparable to keeping] “a person being blindfolded in a jail cell.” 

World-renowned oceanographer, Jean-Michel Cousteau

Dolphins use echolocation (sonar) in order to assess their environment, by reflecting sound waves to determine the location of objects.  This is extremely important in the wild, but in captivity ~ there’s basically no use for it.  This is problematic in two ways: 1) It either renders the dolphin “mute,” or 2) More disturbingly, if the sonar still is being used, then sounds are constantly reflected off its enclosure walls, causing undue stress & even panic to the dolphin.

Dolphins & orcas in captivity have been known to harm themselves, whether by banging repeatedly against their enclosures, getting into fights with other animals, or even gnawing at themselves.  In some cases, & as shown in “Blackfish,” the dolphin who played “Flipper” actually committed suicide by swimming to the bottom of its enclosure & never coming back up.  Dolphin trainers in the Caribbean have reported mother dolphins killing their own babies, who were born into captivity.  And in one of the most affecting parts of “Blackfish,” renowned SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was killed by the orca named Tilikum, when he dragged her down to the bottom of his pool, drowning her.

Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico, Girl Who Travels the World, Dawn Brancheau

Dawn Brancheau was a senior trainer of 15 years at Sea World, & up until her death, had an excellent relationship with Tilikum. She was considered one of the most experienced trainers at the facility.

If you’re actually in a pool swimming with dolphins, know that many illnesses can be passed between dolphins & humans ~ including viral, fungal, & bacterial infections (like salmonella).  People have broken bones & been bitten by dolphins in captivity, & often the water in their tanks are dirty, and/or filled with chemicals & chlorine.  Further, if the dolphin doesn’t want to interact with humans that day: it has no choice.  In the wild, they can swim away.  In captivity, they don’t get that choice.

Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico

#4 – Dolphins in the Wild Aren’t on Medication ~ But Many Dolphins in Captivity ARE

Dolphins & whales in captivity are often given antacids (to treat stomach ulcers), anti-psychotics, & benzodiazepines (to calm them).  Does this sound normal to you??!  Ex-Sea World trainers have come out, stating that some whales & other mammals at Sea World were on “medication every day of their lives.”  This is mind-blowing, & can only be explained by the fact that this highly unnatural environment within which they live is literally KILLING them.

Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico, Girl Who Travels the World

Though dolphins in captivity may look happy, the truth is they are often medicated to make up for deficiencies in their diet, as well as to counteract stress. Can you imagine this happening with dolphins in the wild?

Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico

Though this article is entitled “Why Not to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico,” the truth is, it applies to facilities in the Bahamas, Hawaii, & even in the States.  I chose Mexico simply because I witnessed SO many “Dolphin Experiences” being sold all over the Yucatan Peninsula.  And many are specifically marketed to the thousands of cruise ship travelers who arrive in Mexico every year.

If you are indeed a cruise ship tourist looking to swim with dolphins (or maybe your kids want to), I highly encourage you to do some research first, & make an informed decision as to whether your entertainment for an hour or two is worth the cost ~ & believe me, the cost of these experiences is not cheap.  But moreover, is it worth the cost to the dolphins themselves?

Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico, Girl Who Travels the World

Once my niece & nephew learned of the plight of dolphins & other mammals in captivity, they no longer had a desire to visit places like Sea World. Children are fully capable of understanding these concepts too…remember “Free Willy?”  

Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico

Thank you for taking the time to read, “Why Not to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico.”  If this topic resonates with you, please share this post, so that others may become educated as to the hazards & cruelty of keeping animals in captivity, solely for our “entertainment,” & for profit.  Join the WDC (Whale & Dolphin Conservation) & adopt a whale.  Refuse to pay hundreds of dollars to swim with dolphins!  Educate your children. 

Finally, I think the words of Joe Rogan sum it up best: 

 “We’ve got to stop [keeping] animals & dolphins [in captivity]; it’s going to be thought of the same way we think about slavery today: that it’s horrific, that we can’t understand it, that we can’t believe compassionate human beings would be willing to isolate members of a super social, highly intelligent animal species, & just put them in swimming pools.  It’s fucking barbaric.  It’s crazy.  It’s torture.”

– Joe Rogan

xoxo Noelia 

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