Swimming with Dolphins

You can go swimming with dolphins in Key Largo. But is swimming with dolphins okay? That was the first question I asked myself when considering this page. No doubt, the subject is controversial, and I haven't found any short, simple answer.

My basic instinct says I don't like to see wild animals held captive. I want to see them living free. Dolphins are such intelligent, social animals. In a perfect world, shouldn't these creatures that can cover 40 miles or so in a day, be doing "dolphin things" in the wilds, instead of swimming around in a concrete pool?

Don't miss this page, if you want lots of other interesting facts about dolphins.

Bottlenose dolphin
The bottlenose dolphin can swim 40 miles in a single day.

The increasing worldwide demand for dolphin/human interaction programs leads to the question of how to acquire enough dolphins. Is it ethical to capture a perfectly normal, free-roaming wild dolphin and force it to spend its life in confinement? From what I've learned, the worst of the wild dolphin acquisition methods are nothing short of horrendous.

According to the Award Winning Documentary, "The Cove," dolphins in Taiji, Japan are rounded up and brutally slaughtered for food, except for those few that are sold for show dolphins around the world for up to $150,000 each. The documentary makers contend that this slaughter is financed largely from the acquisition of dolphins to be used for shows.

But today, many captive dolphins today were born in captivity. If they were to all be released tomorrow, probably most of them wouldn't survive. So, how do you undo what's already been done?

One marine park told me almost all their dolphins were born there in the park. The few wild dolphins were acquired because the dolphins had been stranded, and for one reason or another weren't able to be released back to the wilds for fear they wouldn't survive.

In one west-coast-of-Florida case, for example, a young dolphin in distress was picked up in the wilds, floundering, her tail having been lost to a crab trap. That's the bad news. The good news is the tail was replaced with a prosthsesis that now lets her swim. There's no way she would have survived in the great Gulf of Mexico. As is often the case with dolphins taken from the wilds, she was more rescued than captured.

Humane Treatment of Dolphins
So, how are captive dolphins treated? I suspect there are places in the world where captive dolphins are subjected to miserable conditions. This is, of course, one hundred percent inexcusable. But those I've met who work or volunteer at dolphin facilities love these animals, and love working with them. It would be hard for me to believe these good people would intentionally mistreat any dolphin.

Dolphin Assisted Therapy
Then, there's the whole issue of "Dolphin Assisted Therapy," otherwise known at DAT. DAT reports at least some measure of success with issues such as autism, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy, to name a few.

From my understanding, the scientific jury's still out with regard to the measurable efficacy of these programs. Yet, so many people have reported such remarkable results, you have to suspect they're on to something good.

Below is a video on DAT by the Miami Herald, embedded herein with specific permission:

Would I give DAT a shot if I had a child with serious issues that might somehow benefit from interacting with dolphins? You bet. I'd be the first one in line at the water's edge.

Check out this other excellent video--this one by HealingQuest--on DAT, featuring Dr. David E. Nathanson, Ph.D., a retired professor from Florida International University, who has over 30 years experience working with children and dolphins.

So, is swimming with dolphins okay?
The answer probably depends on you and your own perspective. Some counsel zealously against it out of concern for the fate of all dolphins everywhere.

Others, point to a lot of good things that can come from dolphin/human encounters, such as benefits of DAT, and an increasing awareness of dolphins, which one hopes will lead to their greater protection in the wilds.

At the very least, you might want to inquire if the dolphin park has gotten any animals from Japan.

Use Reasonable Caution
If, for whatever reason, you do find yourself in the water with a dolphin, keep in mind that the creature with you is essentially a wild animal. Use due caution.

My own philosophy, which has always served me well is this: When in the water with a wild creature--especially one bigger or stronger than you are--you must be very careful, whether that creature is an alligator, crocodile, shark, barracuda, manatee, whale, or even a friendly looking, smiley-faced dolphin. This is not Disneyworld.

You're in its territory, out of your own element, and you're not calling all the shots. The decision as to whether you get bitten, eaten, slammed or rammed is not completely up to you.

Welcome to Key Largo

A View of John Pennekamp Beach

Christ of the Abyss

SCUBA diver on a Key Largo Reef

Sign warning we play Jimmy Buffet music

A quaint Key Largo cottage

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