For thousands of years, dolphins have ignited a sense of awe and mystery in humans. One New York magazine editor said she felt “a definite sense of presence” and experienced “a profound cross-species greeting” when she was circled by a pod of dolphins in Hawaii.
Scientists have recently discovered that whales and dolphins have specialised neurons linked to empathy and intuition, so it’s no wonder many humans sense a special connection.
But in our eagerness to “experience” dolphins, we have to ensure we don’t risk hurting the very animals we aim to protect.
So when seeing dolphins this holiday season, please consider these tips as an ethical guide:
1. Don’t visit aquariums
One of the best ways you can help dolphins is simple – don’t visit aquariums or marine parks. As documentaries like Blackfish and The Cove have documented, the captivity industry fuels terrible dolphins hunts like those in Taiji, Japan.
Studies have also shown captive dolphins suffer from anxiety, depression, increased mortality, and severe behavioral problems.
So vote with your wallet and choose not to buy a ticket to the cruel captivity industry.
2. Choose to visit dolphins in the wild
If you do want to see dolphins firsthand, the best place to do so is in the ocean. While there’s no definite guarantee you will come across a dolphin, the experience is all the more special because the interaction takes place on the dolphins’ terms. They can choose to swim away, or to seek you out.
3. Pick a responsible tourism operator
When seeing dolphins in the wild, it’s really important to choose a responsible tourism operator. In a quest to get up close and personal, some dodgy operators don’t respect distance or abide by laws. Dolphins should always be allowed to come to you in their own time, not be chased down or harassed by gawking tourists. Boats should always slow down when dolphins are spotted and allow the dolphins to come to them.
Responsibly seeing dolphins in the wild means there should be an expert guide on board to focus on the educational and scientific aspects of the trip and the species you will hopefully encounter. An ethical operator should also have details about policies and guidelines on their website, so make sure to check these out before booking a trip.
4. Dolphins should never be fed
Many dolphin experiences unfortunately involve dolphin-feeding programs. While these programs might seem harmless, disrupting the feeding routines of wild animals can cause massive problems. Conditioning dolphins to source food from humans poses a threat to their survival, as wild dolphins become less willing to hunt for themselves. In turn, they’re less likely to teach their young vital hunting skills.
While we love dolphins, it should always be remembered – they are first and foremost, wild animals. Trying to domesticate them inevitably creates problems. Studies have shown that some wild-feeding programs have actually led to a greater risk of entanglement and boat strikes.
5. Report any bad practice and operators
Most countries have legislation and guidelines in place to ensure safe distances are kept between boats and dolphins. If you have a bad experience on a dolphin watching tour, you should report it to the relevant authority.
Dolphins are intelligent animals who deserve our respect. We want to get close to these wonderful beings, but we also need to make sure we respect their boundaries.
Please share this ethical guideline with your friends and families, and support Australia for Dolphins’ work to protect dolphins from cruelty.