While humans can hide their depression behind forced smiles, dolphins don't have a choice. The upturned corners of their mouths give the illusion of constant joy. But captive dolphins are anything but cheerful.
Don't be fooled into believing that these social animals are thrilled by human interaction and rote performances. It's a misconception fueled by that deceiving smile and fed upon by those who exploit them for financial gain.
The truth is that captivity for any wild animal is more like prison than a vacation and leads to aggression, depression and lethargy. This is compounded when dolphins are kept because of their social nature and self-awareness.
The filming of the 1960s television show, Flipper, came to a halt when the dolphin actors became aggressive. While most of the staff was perplexed by their hostile behavior, the show's dolphin trainer, Ric O'Barry realized the dolphins were displaying depression.
The most heart-breaking instance of this behavior was when Kathy, one of the dolphins to play as Flipper, committed suicide.
“She was really depressed…,” O’Barry recalls, “You have to understand dolphins and whales are not air breathers like we are. Every breath they take is a conscious effort. They can end their life whenever. She swam into my arms and looked me right in the eye, took a breath and didn’t take another one. I let her go and she sank straight down on her belly to the bottom of the tank.”
Free dolphins swim forty to a hundred miles a day with their pods. In comparison, captive dolphins can be housed in tanks a mere twenty four feet wide. This severe confinement is intensified by the fact that these animals are ripped away from their families and friends to lead a new life, sometimes void of interaction with any other dolphins, in a dreary tank.
If being abducted by a foreign species and held captive in a confined space weren't stressful enough, many are then kept in chlorinated water as opposed to their natural saltwater environment. This practice may help kill bacteria but the chlorine causes a host of health problems for them including the loss of skin and irritation of the eyes, to the point where the dolphins are unable to open them at all.
All of these factors contribute to the early death of captive dolphins. Wild dolphins have a typical lifespan of fifty years, yet eighty percent of captive dolphins die before they reach their twenties. Most don't last ten years after joining a marine park like Sea World.
There are still over 800 bottlenose dolphins being held captive on our planet, but you can help stop the cruelty: