Swim-with Programs & Dolphin Assisted Therapy
The many swim-with dolphin programs around the world are very popular and lucrative for the tourism industry. Although it may seem like a fun and harmless way to spend an afternoon while on vacation, it is far from harmless for the dolphin and could be dangerous to humans.
In addition to being captive animals, possibly having been taken from their wild families and being subject to a multitude of stressors, swim-with dolphins are denied privacy and are forced to repeatedly interact with visitors.
Dolphin swim-with programs can also be dangerous, since the animals may become stressed from their unnatural surroundings and can attack visitors. The dolphins in these programs have often been taken from the wild and are still very much wild animals. Dolphins can also carry diseases which can and have been transmitted to humans and can be dangerous to human health.
As the industry expands around the globe, more dolphins are taken from their homes and families to be confined in enclosures for human entertainment. Young females, vital members of the community, are the most sought after because of their temperate personalities. Such programs are flourishing, especially in vacation resorts in developing countries where facilities can be poorly maintained with little regulation or oversight.
In 1994 the U.S. Department of Commerce National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency responsible for implementing and enforcing the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, published a report on swim-with dolphin programs (SWTD). It found that "[D]olphins are large, powerful animals that can inflict serious harm on people. NMFS has injury reports on file that illustrate the potential risks to swimmers and dolphins in SWTD programs are real, and should not be overlooked or disregarded." The report concluded that to ensure the safety of dolphins and swimmers, swim-with dolphin programs should be strictly controlled.
Dolphin Assisted Therapy
Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) is a type of swim-with dolphin program that is used for people suffering from mental or physical disorders as a form of treatment. There is an unproven belief that touching and being close to a dolphin has motivational or healthful powers, although studies show that such claims are without scientific merit, with the results being compared to those achieved with other forms of animal-assisted therapy.
DAT sessions can cost thousands of dollars and most patients seek many sessions, in an understandable desire to help their loved one at any cost. As a result, DAT facilities are cropping up in many countries, with DAT often used to justify construction of new dolphin facilities so as to give an "altruistic" cover to a money making scheme. This industry thrives on the vulnerability of its patients, and both patients and dolphins are exploited for profit.