Vet's view: Let
dolphins swim with
dolphins -- not
Posted 3h 27m ago
By Patty Khuly, Special for USA TODAY
If you're reading this column on the date of its
original publication, you can safely assume I'm in
Costa Rica, a country I adore for all kinds of
reasons. Not only is the flight quick and
inexpensive (from Miami, anyhow), the food is
fantastic, the rain forests are breathtakingly
beautiful, and the country has a way with ecological
preservation bar none in the region.
Recently, CR put the latter sensibility to good use
with its ban on so-called "swim-with" dolphin
facilities and thereby earned even more of my
respect. Dolphins, after all, do not deserve to be
penned, poked and prodded for the amusement of
Yes, in an increasing number of swanky locations
worldwide, you can swim with the dolphins while
awaiting your massage, pilates class or para-sailing
adventure. You can arrive with no training in marine
mammals, slip into the water alongside them, give
signals for tricks and offer fish at the end. A lucky
child might get gently splashed, ride a small circle
while attached to a dorsal fin and receive a dolphin-
style "kiss" on the mouth.
It's undoubtedly "sweet." Onlookers coo and clap,
every bit as delighted as the well-heeled little
children or the newlyweds awaiting their dolphin-
buddy photo op. And why not? A dolphin is a rare
sight in Minnesota and Montana, right?
These dolphins are always absolutely beautiful,
delightfully well-trained and happy-go-lucky in
every perceptible way. They're perfectly maintained.
Why not take a swim? For around $100 (on average),
you, too, can contribute to the maintenance of
dolphins that might otherwise have no place to go.
After all, we all know that municipal aquariums are
underfunded, many dolphin programs (public and
private) are no longer packing in the crowds, and
the welfare issues related to keeping marine
mammals are significant.
Indeed, that's the sales pitch. Not only are these
"animal ambassadors" teaching children to respect
all of nature, they were once "unwanted."
What to do with an elephant after the circus shuts
down? With a Silverback gorilla no zoo needs? With
a dolphin, now that the Navy can no longer justify
them, now that seaquariums and small water parks
everywhere can no longer turn a dime on their
expensive, in-house presence?
Send them to a swim-with facility! These places
know a thing or two about profitability. I mean, who
wouldn't want to spend $100 to hang out with
Flipper for five minutes? In fact, this resort feature
has gotten so popular that the active trade in live
bottlenose dolphins is again on the rise.
All of which invariably raises a wide variety of
While I understand why any parent might want to
inspire adoration and respect for wildlife by
granting their children this opportunity, I see
absolutely no reason to contribute to this farce by
allowing my son to have the same experience. It's
just not worth it given the fact of the dolphins'
It's not that it's not fun. or potentially even life-
changing. to swim with dolphins. I've had the
opportunity in a veterinary capacity and will forever
cherish the memory of my experience. Still, it's not
something I would elect to repeat in a commercial
In practice, dolphins should have next to nothing to
do with humans. Spied from ashore, frolicking from
afar that's about it. Can't think of any other r
easonable excuse to interact with them up close
and personal beyond veterinary attempts on their
Now that we've (yes, I'll use the incendiary word)
"enslaved" them into our company, we have to live
with the ones we have left, even if we can barely
afford them. As long as releasing them is not widely
considered a reasonable option (as it is not for most
animals raised in captivity or kept out of their kind's
company for wide swaths of time), they'll have to
make do by earning their keep. Or so the story goes.
But that doesn't mean I can justify a pricey swim-
with. Not if it means someone's still turning a profit
off their backs. Not if it means my dollars will in any
way be construed as a tacit endorsement of their
captivity in a small, petroleum-laced lagoon with
small children for company instead of their own.
Might as well go to the circus. Or not.
Thankfully my vacation will remain unmarred by
solicitations to spend my time in any dolphin
company. At least one country understands that
highly intelligent sentient beings don't deserve to
spend their days sucking up to humans for a morsel
of mackerel. Would that ours would go the same