To spread awareness about the negative impacts, both ethically and environmentally, that can result from marine mammal captivity the Nature Foundation St. Maarten would like to make the public aware of these serious negative impacts regarding these establishments and the effect on the environment and tourism. Dolphins in the wild swim up to 100 kilometers (60 miles) per day, regularly dive up to 46 meters (150 feet) and can reach max depths of 300 meters (nearly 1000 feet). Confining this species to a shallow enclosure for their entire lives is cruel and can have serious physical and psychological effects to the animals.
Dolphins are highly social and intelligent creatures that live in groups called pods working together to hunt, play and raise their young. Dolphins have been known to show empathy, grief, problem-solving, teaching skills and many more traits similar to that of humans.
Enclosed in small spaces and trained with food deprivation dolphins are forced to preform tricks that can be hazardous for their health and live in constant stress due to forced physical interaction with humans. While wild dolphins will spend their lives with family members and social groups, those in captivity often behave aggressively towards one another due to the limited and restricting lives they lead. They can also become aggressive towards the visitors to the attraction with the most recent recorded attack in November, 2019 of a 10-year-old in Cancun, Mexico.
In addition to the lack of space to roam and explore, when living in tight quarters dolphins cannot escape things that would be avoidable in the open ocean. None-stimulating environments coupled with damaging chemical, physical and noise pollutions result in a very low quality of life for dolphins in captivity. Tricks like ‘beaching’ are unnatural and can cause damage if done for extended periods, as can tricks that involve pushing or pulling humans with their beaks (noses). Forced to preform for their food dolphins may give the illusion of being happy, but after the visitors leave many are seen floating unmoving and lifeless in pens with their fellow captives.
Aside from the negative treatment of the dolphins, these dolphinariums can have several negative environmental effects. Building a dolphin enclosure on the existing shore line can damage and destroy coral or native sea grass in the area. In addition, large amounts of sediment will enter the water along with potential building materials, debris and chemicals. As the dolphins will remain in these enclosures at all times their waste will be concentrated to the area, which will lead to an increase in algae blooms due to the excess of waste nutrients. Algae blooms will significantly affect our coral reefs, as these algae will overgrow the already threatened and disappearing vulnerable coral ecosystems. As a Caribbean tourist island we depend on our corals as it causes storm protection, clear waters, healthy fish stocks and attracts millions of tourists.
In addition to the environmental impacts the controversy surrounding such institutions is abundant, something that St. Maarten cannot afford in this period of re-growth and damaged the image of our island. All around the globe dolphinariums and dolphin entertainment parks are being shut down and emptied due to the moral and ethical issues surrounding them. Protests and boycotts of such establishments are on the rise. In several areas around the world legislation is being introduced to ban the captivity of marine mammals for breeding and entertainment purposes.
For those that would like to learn more about dolphins the Nature Foundation recommends you visit our website, “https://naturefoundationsxm.org/portfolio/bottlenose-dolphin/” which has information and several educational resources. We are lucky to be able to spot wild bottlenose dolphins throughout the year in the waters of St. Maarten/Martin. While these sightings are rare, at least these dolphins are in their natural habitat. Where they should remain.