Swim-with Attractions & Dolphin Assisted Therapy
The many swim-with captive dolphin attractions around the world are very popular and lucrative for the tourism industry. Although it may seem like a fun and harmless way to spend an afternoon while on vacation, it is far from harmless for the dolphin and could be dangerous to humans.
In addition to being captive, possibly having been taken from the wild and being subject to a multitude of stressors, swim-with dolphins are denied privacy and are forced to repeatedly interact with human strangers.
Dolphin swim-with encounters can also be dangerous, since the animals may become stressed from their unnatural surroundings and can injure visitors. The dolphins in these attractions are still very much wild animals. Dolphins can also carry diseases that can and have been transmitted to humans and can be dangerous to human health.
As dolphinariums expand in the developing world, cetaceans are taken from their natural habitat to be confined in enclosures for human entertainment. Young females, vital members of the community, are the most sought after because they are less aggressive than males. Such attractions are flourishing in vacation resorts in developing countries where facilities can be poorly maintained with little regulation or oversight.
In 1994 the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the agency responsible for implementing and enforcing the Marine Mammal Protection Act, published a report on swim-with dolphin encounters. It found that "[D]olphins are large, powerful animals that can inflict serious harm on people. NMFS has injury reports on file that illustrate the potential risks to swimmers and dolphins in [swim-with] programs are real, and should not be overlooked or disregarded." The report concluded that to ensure the safety of dolphins and swimmers, swim-with dolphin encounters should be strictly controlled.
Dolphin Assisted Therapy
Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) is a type of swim-with dolphin encounter that is used for people suffering from mental or physical disorders as a form of treatment. DAT proponents foster an unproven belief that touching and being close to a dolphin has unique motivational or healthful powers, although studies show that such claims are without scientific merit. There is no evidence that DAT is any more therapeutic than other forms of animal-assisted therapy, which are far less expensive for patients and less harmful to animal welfare (as domesticated species are used).
DAT sessions can cost thousands of dollars. Many parents of disabled children seek multiple sessions, in an understandable desire to help their loved one at any cost. As a result, DAT facilities are cropping up in many countries, with DAT often used to justify construction of new dolphin facilities, giving an "altruistic" cover to a money-making scheme. This industry thrives on the vulnerability of its patients, and both patients and dolphins are exploited for profit.