The shows (wrongly called “educational sessions or exhibitions”) are the main attraction for visitors to dolphinariums. There is always background music and a stand where people can sit comfortably to watch the show starring cetaceans who perform in exchange for a few frozen fish.
In order for a dolphin to perform these tricks it has to be trained for several months and accept its role of obedience to people. The best-case scenario is that positive reinforcement is used, a technique consisting of rewarding the tricks that the person wants the animal to carry out (normally through food supply). Unfortunately, there are still some trainers who use force to make the animals perform.
The tricks, or exercises, don’t only consist of basic postures which they need to perform to help with veterinary examinations (blood tests, dental checkup, ultrasound scan, etc.), but they always include some kind of activity to impress the audience. For example, performing a series of jumps one after the other or very high jumps. Other tricks may include twisting in the air, splashing water with their fins, etc. It is very common to see how cetaceans are made to push their trainers around the pool by their feet, as if they were using a surf board, or they are used to pull small boats carrying a few children. There are centres which even have dolphins performing synchronised swimming and dance shows.
It is very common to see dolphins doing acrobatics but also orcas are made to do the same things. These animals, which weigh 4-5 tonnes, have become the stars of the multinational Sea World, for example. In countries such as Russia or China you can even see Belugas performing in these types of shows.
What is usually 2 or 3 shows per day during the rest of the year, often becomes 5 or 6 sessions in the high season, especially in the summer. As well as the shows, in the high season the number of photo sessions and interactions between the animal and the visitor also increases. It is obviously the time of year when most profit can be made from them.
Cetaceans have very sensitive hearing, it is their most developed sense as it is their main form of communication. Considering the high volume of the music and the fact that water carries sound at a greater speed and intensity than air, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that cetaceans get highly stressed during the shows or in the presence of a large crowd of people clapping and shouting.
Neither the music nor the dolphins’ tricks are meant to educate the audience, just to provide entertainment. It is of great importance to understand this difference as there are centres which justify putting on these shows by suggesting that the audience is learning about cetaceans. Pushing a trainer along by his feet or watching a dolphin swimming in circles around a pool doesn’t teach us anything about biology, their natural habitat or the behaviour of this animal. If you analyse the true educational value of these shows, including the explanations given over the loudspeakers, on average in Spain, only 7% of the time is dedicated to this end.
At European level
We act via the foundation SOSdelfines, a campaign led by FAADA which advocates the end of cetaceans in captivity. It counts on the support of the organisations ANDA, Animanaturalis, Born Free Foundation, Ocean Care, One Voice, Mare Vivo and LAV.
Through Dolphinaria-Free Europe, a coalition made up of different organisations, professionals and European experts in marine mammals which is working towards ending their captivity.
At international level
We work with experts in cetaceans and other scientists with the aim of defining and creating solutions, like for example, the creation of marine sanctuaries where dolphins which are currently being exploited can go to die with dignity.