"There are claims about educational value and conservation. All you are seeing is exploited animals in unnatural conditions trained to perform unnatural behaviours."
Dolphins are vastly intelligent, wild marine predators with complex behavioural and psychological needs.They hunt for their food, have lifelong family bonds and language to communicate – they even have names for each other. In the wild their home range is usually from 100 up to 400 square kilometres. The average size of the largest tank in dolphin venues is just 444m2 – smaller than a basketball court and slightly larger than an IMAX cinema screen.
The average life span for a bottlenose dolphin is between 30 and 50 years. If they do not die prematurely, that’s how long they spend confined to the same four walls. Bored and frustrated day after day, year after year. Fed a diet of dead fish in return for performing circus tricks for a paying crowd. All while being subjected to blaring music and an endless line of tourists to pose for selfies and many other forms of interaction with no retreat.
At World Animal Protection our goal is to make this the last generation of dolphins to suffer these tragic conditions. As part of our work, we recently visited captive venues in popular UK tourist hotspot Tenerife. Here we witnessed dolphins languishing in tiny, barren tanks in between performances where they were trained to push trainers out of the water on their sensitive snouts, drag children around in little boats in front of a screaming crowd and do a bizarre slow dance with trainers in repetitive daily shows.
Every show began with monotonous propaganda, saturating tourists with the idea that these animals are better off in their tanks than in the wild where they belong.
One of the worst parts of being present at these venues is the overwhelming truth that every aspect of them is centred around human entertainment. For all their claims about educational value and conservation, all you are seeing is exploited animals in unnatural conditions trained to perform unnatural behaviours. Much like you would have expected to see decades ago in a circus.
However, we also spent time with the incredible experts at the Whale Heritage Site in South Tenerife where local tour operators and communities work together to protect and celebrate the welfare of marine wildlife while offering tourists the chance to experience these animals free and thriving in the wild, where they belong. The stark contrast between this and the sad, exploitative captive dolphin venues just a stone's throw away could not have been clearer.
Fortunately, these cruel venues no longer exist in the UK. The last one closed its doors 30 years ago when stricter animal welfare laws were introduced. Yet, travel giants like TUI Group still make a fortune from selling and advertising tickets for Brits to visit them abroad.
We can all do our part by refusing to buy a ticket, especially when it’s as easy as simply choosing a responsible wild watching alternative to make those magical holiday memories.