New report exposes "extreme" dolphin cruelty in the travel industry

Nov 16 2019, 12:21 am

A new comprehensive report released by the World Animal Protection — aka the World Society for the Protection of Animals or WSPCA — states that the practice of holding dolphins in captivity and utilizing them for entertainment purposes is “extreme animal cruelty maintained by unethical travel organizations.”

The report — entitled Behind the Smile — describes how dolphins, widely known for their intellect and ‘smile’ as well as their acrobatic abilities, are the most common cetaceans in captivity.

According to their data,”more than eight out of 10 captive cetaceans are a species of dolphin.”

The report describes how unknowing tourists are contributing to a multibillion-dollar industry while travel companies, including more household names than you’d think, are garnering the rewards.


Bottle nose dolphin (Chua Han Hsiung/Shutterstock)

“From their traumatic capture from the wild to being bred for confinement in grossly inadequate conditions, dolphins and other cetaceans suffer immensely in captivity. Their use in wildlife entertainment causes them harm, stress and discomfort.  Many will experience food deprivation as part of their training, reducing them to beggars who must perform to eat.”

The organization claims that holding dolphins in captivity for entertainment offers no real benefit to conservation and minimal educational benefits, despite what some marine entertainment venues might say.


Happy dolphins in the blue water of the swimming pool (Pakhnyushchy/Shutterstock)

“It is inhumane and unethical to use captive dolphins and other cetaceans for entertainment.”

Millions of animal-lovers every year are convinced that dolphin shows and experiences promoted and sold by some of the world’s largest travel companies are cruelty-free, benefit conservation efforts, and are educational.

However, according to the WSPCA, “the industry is reaping billions of dollars in profits off the cruel captivity of dolphins kept for entertainment.”

The report is extensive. It outlines the massive scale and profitability of the multibillion-dollar entertainment industry surrounding dolphins highlighting, in particular, the industry’s links with the corporate investment industry as well as the suffering of over 3,000 dolphins for money earned through their pain.


dolphin from around the nose (Kucher Serhii/Shutterstock)

Through a considerable amount of in-country and desktop research conducted in 2018, World Animal Protection studied the scale and nature of the dolphin entertainment industry.

Through their research, they discovered 355 publicly accessible facilities across 58 countries around the world that keep dolphins and other cetaceans in captivity.

Over 60% of all dolphins living in captivity across the globe are kept in five main countries: China (23%), Japan (16%), the USA (13%), Mexico (8%), and Russia (5%).

“We found that 93% of dolphin facilities worldwide offer shows with dolphins, while 66% offer swimming with dolphins, 75% offer selfies, and 23% offer dolphin-assisted therapy.”


Close up of a dolphin performing in a dolphin show (Tom Meaker/Shutterstock)

Expedia Group was one of the companies that not only offered the most of the top 10 dolphin facilities but also a variety of others as well.

“Thirty-two dolphin facilities across many countries were offered by one or multiple
companies belonging to Expedia Group.”

As a result, Expedia Group’s ticket sales alone to these destinations is enough to maintain the holding of over 500 dolphins in harsh conditions, the group says. As such, they are a significant driver of the dolphin industry.

Unfortunately, the options for dolphins already living in captivity is limited. However, some improvements can be made on the ground by replacing visitor interactions with authentic dolphin-welfare oriented husbandry practices.

Additionally, travel companies have a responsibility to their customers and their consciences to review their offers and alter them on behalf of those customers that are unaware of the current practices.


Dolphins jumping out of the water during a dolphin show (Tom Meaker/Shutterstock)

However, the group says consumers also need to be engaged and educate themselves to see beyond the dolphin “smile” to research the needs of the species and understand that they are not able to be met in captivity.

If dishonest and cruel animal entertainment industries are no longer profitable, companies have no reason to promote them further.


A pod of long-beaked common dolphins leap out of the water in Monterey Bay, California. (Chase Dekker/Shutterstock)

Dolphins are lovely, intelligent creatures, and there are still ways to experience them organically.

The best way to view them is through a responsible operator that is accredited by the World Cetacean Alliance or a like organization that holds the well-being of dolphins as its driving influence.

This way, tourists are not harming dolphins. Instead, they can see dolphins for what they truly should be: carefree animals, not entertainers.

Emily RumballEmily Rumball

+ Travel News
+ Mapped