Why you shouldn’t swim with dolphins?

Dolphins are highly intelligent and friendly mammals that seem to smile and invite us to play. Their depiction in TV shows and movies makes us think swimming with dolphins would be a magical experience. However, there are several reasons why swimming with dolphins in the wild or in captivity can be problematic.

Quick Answers

– Dolphins are wild animals that can be unpredictable and dangerous

– Captive dolphin programs are unethical and promote mistreatment

– Dolphins need their space and should not be disturbed

– You risk injury from bites, ramming, or drowning

– Disease transmission is possible between humans and dolphins

Dolphins Are Still Wild Animals

Dolphins may seem cute, friendly, and approachable, but they are still wild animals. Dolphins are large and powerful – an adult bottlenose dolphin can reach over 12 feet long and weigh up to 1400 pounds. Dolphins have nearly 100 sharp conical teeth designed to catch slippery, fast-moving prey. Despite their smiles, dolphins can be unpredictable and dangerous.

Here are some risks and realities to consider about dolphin behavior:

Dolphins Have Their Own Agenda

Dolphins are not domesticated pets. They are wild animals that live by their own rules. A dolphin might approach out of curiosity, but could quickly turn aggressive or lose interest. We cannot control their behavior. Swimming with dolphins puts you at risk of unpredictable actions.

Dominance Displays

Male dolphins compete for dominance. They ram each other at 20 mph, bite, slap tails, and emit threatening sounds. Swimmers risk getting caught in the fray. Dominant males also force mating on females – another danger for human swimmers.

Mistaken Identity

Dolphins rely on echolocation and may mistake swimmers for prey like fish or squid. They could attack before realizing their error. Dolphins bite prey to immobilize it, which would seriously injure a human.

Playtime Can Turn Rough

Dolphins love to play but aren’t always aware of their strength. They may accidentally ram swimmers or slap them with their powerful tails. Serious injury can result from a dolphin smacking into a human at high speed, even if playful.

Stress Alters Behavior

Dolphins are highly intelligent and social. Swimmers create disruptions that stress wild dolphins. A stressed dolphin may act erratically or show aggression through dominance displays or attacking.

Captive Dolphin Programs Are Unethical

While swimming with dolphins in the open ocean has risks, dolphin programs at marine parks and swim-with attractions pose additional ethical issues. Most experts consider them unethical due to mistreatment of dolphins.

Captured from the Wild

Most performing dolphins were wild-caught. Even though captive breeding programs exist, marine parks still obtain dolphins by hunting and capturing them. This is traumatic for dolphins and threatens wild populations.

Inadequate Enclosures

Tanks and sea pens for captive dolphins are woefully inadequate compared to their natural ocean environment. Maximum profits motive marine parks to cram dolphins into tiny, sterile enclosures relative to their range in the wild.

Deprived of Natural Behaviors

Life in captivity deprives dolphins of natural behaviors. They have limited space, interact with few other dolphins, and cannot forage, migrate, or form normal social groups like in the wild. Captivity induces stress, aggression, health issues, and stereotypical repetitive behaviors.

Training Causes Suffering

“Training” dolphins to perform in shows involves food deprivation and other questionable practices. Tricks like jumping through hoops or carrying humans on their nose go against natural dolphin behavior. Corrective techniques when dolphins don’t perform cause additional suffering.

Risk of Injury

Dolphins in captivity risk injury from other dolphins or abrasion against enclosures. Chlorinated water also damages their skin and eyes. These factors contribute to generally shorter lifespans for captive dolphins. Risk of injury exists for human swimmers as well.

No Meaningful Education

Marine parks promote swim-with programs for “education” and conservation. However, these are mainly profit-driven experiences with little educational value about dolphins or the ocean. They perpetuate mistreatment of a threatened species.

Captive Dolphins Wild Dolphins
Deprived of natural habitat Live in full ocean environment
Fed dead fish Hunt live fish
Forced to interact with humans Interact with pod and marine life
Stereotypical circling behavior Natural behaviors like breaching
Small tanks, noise pollution Open ocean, natural sounds

Disturbing Dolphins in the Wild

Swimming with wild dolphins seems like it would be an incredible experience. However, seeking out and approaching dolphins in their natural ocean environment has many downsides for the dolphins.

Interrupting Feeding and Resting

In their natural habitat, much of a dolphin’s day is spent feeding, socializing, and resting. Human swimmers interrupt these critical behaviors. Hungry or tired dolphins will eventually avoid areas where humans frequently disturb them.


Dolphins who perceive humans as a threat experience increased stress hormones. Chronic stress takes a physiological toll. Stressed mother dolphins also pass less immunity to their calves. Humans are best admiring dolphins at a distance.

Altered Migration

Dolphins rely on established migration routes and habitats. Swimmers disrupting them may alter dolphin movement or prevent access to key feeding and breeding grounds. This has long-term impacts on populations.

Sensory Damage

Dolphin hearing is extremely sensitive. Noise from boats following or approaching dolphins can cause hearing loss, drive dolphins away from critical habitats, interfere with feeding, and mask communication.

Behavioral Changes

Frequent human contact increases dolphin interest and desensitizes them to humans. This leads to risky behaviors like approaching boats for food or play. These behaviors often end tragically for the dolphins.

Accelerated Infant Mortality

Calves separated from mothers are vulnerable to predators and may not properly nurse. Males may also attack calves to mate with the mother again. Human disruption scares calves, separations, or ending nursing, leading to higher infant death rates.

Risk of Injury or Death to Swimmers

Swimming with dolphins – whether captive or wild – carries inherent risks of serious injury or drowning. Here are some of the hazards:

Dolphin Bites

A dolphin’s sharp conical teeth can produce deep puncture wounds and lacerations. Bites that seem playful on the surface can be extremely forceful. There is high risk of infection from bacteria in a dolphin’s mouth.

Blunt Force Trauma

Dolphins weigh up to 1400 pounds and can swim at speeds over 18 mph. Ramming, slamming, or slapping with their tails can break bones, rupture organs, or cause lethal concussions for swimmers.

Drowning Risk

Being overwhelmed by a large dolphin pod could increase risk of drowning. Tired swimmers can also drown while attempting to keep up with fast-swimming dolphins. Panic attacks triggered by dolphins are another drowning hazard.

Boat Strike

Boats accompanying swimmers put them at risk. Thrashing tails and unexpected dolphin movements make it hard for captains to see and avoid swimmers. Propeller strikes have caused serious injuries.

Type of Injury Potential Harm
Bites Deep puncture wounds, lacerations
Blunt Force Trauma Broken bones, organ rupture, concussion
Drowning Exhaustion, panic, inability to surface
Boat Strike Propeller gashes, strike injuries

Risk of Disease Transmission

Communicable diseases can be shared between dolphins and humans in close contact with each other. This poses health hazards to both species.


Dolphins carry bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, leptospirosis, and Mycobacterium marinum. These bacteria can infect open wounds from bites and cause gastrointestinal illness if ingested.


The fungus Candida is found in dolphins and can infect human skin. Exposure of open cuts or sores to contaminated water puts swimmers at risk of fungal infections.


The measles virus is shared between some wild dolphins and humans. Other viruses like influenza, herpes, and pox viruses can potentially spread between dolphins and humans as well.


Parasitic worm larvae called nematodes have been found in dolphins and can penetrate human skin. Ingesting contaminated water also exposes swimmers to parasites like roundworms.


Toxic algae blooms that dolphins are exposed to produce respiratory irritants that swimmers can inhale. Pollutants the dolphins carry may produce skin rashes or gastrointestinal issues if contacted.

Transmission Route Diseases
Bites / wounds Bacterial infections
Ingestion Parasites, toxins, illness
Inhaled droplets Viruses, bacterial illness
Skin contact Fungal infections, rashes

Conservation Concerns

Interacting with wild dolphins leads people to think dolphins are thriving. However, many dolphin species are endangered or threatened. Swimming programs detract from real conservation efforts.

Declining Populations

Pollution, prey depletion, habitat loss, and hunting have decreased dolphin populations worldwide. Several species are endangered like the Maui dolphin and South Asian river dolphin. More common bottlenose dolphins are decreasing in number as well.

Disrupting Behavior

Swimming with dolphins habituates them to humans. This leads to risky behaviors that contribute to dolphin injury and deaths worldwide. Habituated dolphins also fail to properly raise calves.

False Impression

Swim programs give impression that dolphins are abundant. In reality, disturbing wild dolphins hinders breeding, feeding and overall health. People then oppose true conservation efforts to protect habitat and restrict fishing.

Profit over Welfare

Swim attractions and parks profit from captive dolphins, but contribute nothing to wild conservation or education. Making money continues to override animal welfare.

Capture Continues

Dolphin hunting continues in places like Taiji, Japan to supply swim programs and marine parks with wild-caught dolphins. Removing them from the wild harms populations.

Alternatives to Swimming with Dolphins

There are many better, more ethical ways to enjoy dolphins that avoid the risks of swimming programs. Here are excellent alternative options:

Whale and Dolphin Watching Tours

Responsible whale watching tours use boats or planes with professional guides to find and observe dolphins behaving naturally in the wild – without invasive disruption.

Dolphin Live Cams

Explore streaming cams that provide a peek into the daily lives of dolphin pods without human interference. See them hunting, playing, and nurturing calves.

Captive Facilities with Non-Swim Programs

Some accredited facilities offer above-water viewing and educational exhibits on dolphin intelligence, biology and conservation. This avoids exploitation.

Dolphin Research Programs

Volunteer with legitimate scientific research studying wild dolphins to gain insights while minimizing disturbance. Cataloging behaviors helps protect dolphins.

Virtual Reality (VR) Experiences

Immersive 360° VR documentaries let you swim alongside dolphins and whales without leaving home. This avoids disrupting real wildlife.


Swimming with dolphins is marketed as a magical bucket list experience. However, it ultimately exploits these intelligent, social creatures for profit and disrupts threatened populations. Dolphins belong free in the ocean, not trapped in captivity for our entertainment. There are many better ways to respectfully enjoy observing dolphins safely in their natural habitat. Avoid swim-with programs, and instead be an advocate for true conservation and ethical policies that protect dolphins worldwide. The next time you see dolphins, admire them responsibly from a distance.

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