For dolphins in captivity, confinement is an issue. The animals are kept in the tanks that their human handlers see fit. If the humans open up a gate, the cetaceans may swim into the next pool. They are physically confined to the walls of the tank, while their natural life involves migration and swimming of vast distances.
But marine parks go beyond the physical confining of whales and dolphins. They also
arrest their free will. Wild cetaceans may eat what they want, whenever they want. They may be wherever they so choose, and interact in any way that they’d like. But in captivity, everything about the animals’ lifestyle is determined, and limited by humans.
Captive cetaceans are taken from a life of independence that is driven by their own nature and desires, to a life that is controlled by human beings. And even if they are born in captivity, their natural lifestyle is denied them. A diet for wild cetaceans varies from salmon, to squid, to seals. In captivity their diet is essentially reduced to 3 different sizes of fish: small, medium, and large.
In the wild, cetaceans are magnificent, apex predators and as such they have a natural ability and tendency to hunt for their food whenever they are hungry. But in captivity, they are reduced to pets, groveling at the sides of pools for a trainer to hand them food.
The life of a captive cetacean is very structured, not unlike the life of a human inmate. Everyday there is a schedule describing when the cetaceans are to participate in showtime, dinnertime, and “relationship” time with the trainers. In nearly every circumstance, the animals are being told what they must do and when they must do it. That is after all, what training is all about: conditioning an animal to
obey your every command and to suppress its nature in an artificial tank where it may do your bidding. As I have stated before, training a wild animal would not be possible without this level of control over its behavior. This control is also what causes many people to look at dolphin and whale shows, and view it as a spectacle of dominance over the animal’s behavior.
Families, and healthy social structure of captive cetaceans are also confiscated by humans. Animals are transferred and families are split, breaking bonds, and relationships that would normally last a lifetime in the wild. Dolphin pods are one of the most complex social groups on the planet. When humans are handed control over something so vital, and complicated, cetaceans have trouble establishing a normal pod life. Forcing the animals to live with strangers is also forcing them into a life of bullying and aggression with their tank mates.
In captivity cetaceans are denied many things that are important to their natural lifestyle. From hunting and traveling, to health and long life. But it all boils down to the fact that captive cetaceans are forced to give up their free will.