With the spotlight trained directly on industries that keep marine mammals in captivity, the public is becoming ever more aware of the plight of these animals, and the consciousness toward its ethical value is steadily shifting. While those in favor of captive marine mammals argue that they are vital for education, those against it assert that nothing is more educational than nature. Whether the practice goes out of favor altogether in the future remains to be seen, but meanwhile, the demand for certain types of cetaceans, particularly dolphins, remains alive.
According to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, there are 34 different oceanic dolphin species. But only a handful of these species will ever be viewed in captive situations. This is because certain species of dolphins adapt much more readily to captivity than other species. Mammologists deciding which species to introduce into captive environments study the dolphins’ natural habits to make a determination on how it will survive in captivity. While dolphins in general are hailed as intelligent, highly social creatures, there are a particular few that are favored over the rest. Here are just four types of dolphins that are commonly targeted for captivity.
The bottlenose dolphin is the species most widely seen in captivity for theme parks, zoos, aquariums, and “swim with the dolphins” experiences. This is because the bottlenose dolphin naturally gravitates to more shallow waters, and is comfortable swimming in more confined spaces where there may be objects or obstacles to navigate around. Bottlenose dolphins are also very amenable to training and socialization, making them ideal candidates for close contact with humans and other sea life.
Spotted dolphins are found in the Atlantic ocean waters. They get their name from the small spots dotting their hide. In certain habitats, such as the Bahamas, spotted dolphins are very comfortable with and friendly towards neighboring human populations, making them a possible match for programs requiring captivity. They are also frequently targeted for “dolphin cruises” where tourists are taken out into open waters to watch for dolphins.
Common dolphin is the name used to describe three similar dolphin species — the short-beaked, the long-beaked, and the Arabian common dolphin — although this last is still disputed. Because they are not as easy to habituate to captivity, far fewer numbers are held in captive situations.
Spinner dolphins get their name from the complex spinning displays they execute under water and into the air. Spinner dolphins are small and tropical, and are shallow water dwellers, which makes them ideal for captivity. They are also quite social, and can put on entertaining displays without any additional training.
Top image via flickr/Flying Cloud