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Are Captive Dolphins Healthy?

May 04, 2019 03:48 PM EDT
Captive Dolphins

(Photo : Pixabay)

Captive dolphins have proven to be a majestic sight and major tourist attraction at many major resorts and aquariums, yet whether these creatures were meant to be held by humans is a controversial question yet to be settled. Recently, arguments about the morality of zoos and aquariums have centered on how captivity can produce negative health effects for animals of all sorts, with much attention being paid to the way that dolphins respond to captivity.

Are captive dolphins healthy and happy? A new study hopes to provide a clear answer to that question, which continues to plague animal rights groups and tourist officials all around the world.

Captivity isn't for everyone

It's a well-established fact that captivity isn't for everyone; some species simply react more positively to human interaction and captivity efforts than others. Panda bears in China have essentially grown dependent on their handlers for the wellbeing of the species, for instance, with zoologist and other experts being needed to ensure that all newborn pandas actually survive to adulthood. Whereas some creatures need human help to get by, however, others are good examples of how captivity can harm much more than it helps.

Orca's don't do well in captivity, for instance, for a wide variety of reasons including cramped spaces, unnecessary stimuli, loneliness, and general weakness brought about by captivity. Orcas living in captivity regular live for substantially shorter periods of time than their counterparts in the wild, too, leading many to assert that keeping such creatures in captivity isn't only cruel but is indeed fundamentally unethical.

Dolphins are another creature entirely, however, and the research about their captivity hasn't yet produced clear results regarding its impact on their overall health and species wellbeing. According to the Chicago Tribune, however, that's set to change as researchers move to make an in-depth exploration of captivity's impact on the health of dolphins. Researchers at the Brookfield Zoo want to determine if captivity is diminishing the physical health or mental wellbeing of the animals, and have equipped sensors to a wide array of dolphins in hopes of acquiring useful information.

Should intelligent creatures be caged?

While the world awaits with bated breath the results of the forthcoming study, it remains an open question if intelligent creatures should be caged or captive in any way. As National Geographic points out in its exploration of dolphin captivity, releasing captive dolphins into the wild in the past has generated mixed results, with some dying early and others thriving once they rejoin their natural habitat. This has led many researchers to argue that dolphin captivity is good, whereas others continue to assert that it diminishes their longevity.

It's inarguable that the physical space that captive dolphins are confined to is almost always too small for the creatures in question, even if it's at one of the 50 best zoos in the world. However, and a strong argument can be made that they should be released into their natural habitats. Outside of academic research meant to bolster marine health, it can be argued that dolphins in captivity serve little purpose other than generating commercial demand for tourist destinations that don't care about local wildlife.

The long-term impact of captivity has yet to be conclusively studied in dolphins, however, so the researchers at Brookfield Zoo will have to finish their ambitious project before the world can have conclusive data on this issue. With dolphins being one of the most intelligent creatures in the world apart from humans, and with their lovable antics having made them fan-favorites for generations, they're unlikely to fully escape captivity anytime soon. Whether that's a good or bad thing remains to be seen, and it's inarguable that dolphin captivity will remain a tense issue and hot topic for discussion for years to come.

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