Dolphins in captivity performing - World Animal Protection - Animals in the wild

Exposed: Expedia Group and other travel giants profiting from cruel dolphin entertainment

Press release

New global report: Multibillion-dollar, dolphin entertainment is extreme animal cruelty masquerading as innocent family fun, with unsuspecting tourists fuelling this sinister industry, reveals a report by World Animal Protection.

Millions of animal lovers every year are fooled into thinking that dolphin shows, and experiences sold by the world’s largest travel companies are cruelty-free, educational and good for conservation efforts. But this could not be further from the truth – the industry is profiting billions of dollars off the cruel captivity of dolphins kept for entertainment.

The report, Behind the Smile, is the most comprehensive assessment of captive dolphins to date. It reveals that globally:

  • There are 336 dolphin entertainment venues in 54 countries from the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean and China which imprison at least 3,029 dolphins
  • These captive dolphins annually generate a staggering 1.1 to 5.5 billion USD for the venue owners - additional income of merchandise, food and accommodation is an even greater revenue for them.

From these numbers, it’s clear why this industry is desperate to deceive the public to protect the billions of dollars made at the expense of these animals. Inherent suffering is associated with all stages of dolphins’ lives in captivity - even though dolphins may appear to be smiling, they experience stress and suffering at every stage of their miserable lives.

In their natural environment, dolphins swim 100 square kilometres of ocean freely, sometimes much more. But held in tiny barren, concrete tanks 200k times smaller than their natural space, exposed to infection and chemicals and often drugged to cope with captivity – they sadly can only swim a few metres at a time. The anxiety and stress can cause them to self-mutilate and become aggressive – all in the name of entertainment and profit.

Nick Stewart, World Animal Protection’s Global Head of Dolphins Campaign said:

“Dolphin entertainment is animal cruelty masquerading as wholesome family fun. Whether bred in captivity or captured from the wild by being torn from their mother’s side, these sociable, intelligent animals are imprisoned for life and are reduced to begging clowns performing circus-tricks in exchange for food. For a wild animal like dolphins, a life spent in a concrete box is not a life, it is a life sentence - we need to make this the last generation of dolphins in captivity.

“Companies that sell tickets to these shows are cashing in on cruelty and the greedy dolphinarium industry has spun a web of lies, portraying themselves as carers, not captors. Just take Expedia Group – by selling tickets to demeaning shows that exploit animals they are profiting from the suffering of 500 dolphins in captivity at 32 entertainment venues across the globe.

“Major travel brands like TripAdvisor, Virgin Holidays, British Airways Holidays, have already shown leadership and cut ties - now it’s time for others to follow suit. That’s why we are calling on Expedia Group and the remaining travel companies that are still lagging behind, to end the sale of tickets to dolphin shows, so that we can end their suffering once and for all.”

Venues promote the rescue and rehabilitation of dolphins and claim to boost conservation efforts. In fact, as little as 5% - 10% of zoos, dolphinariums and aquaria are involved in substantial conservation efforts, and the amount spent is often less than 1% of their revenue. Dolphins bred in captivity are not endangered and are not released to the wild but are used solely to sustain the captive population which makes a mockery of the industry’s conservation claims.

The industry also touts’ educational opportunities as a reason for dolphins’ continued captivity. But encouraging visitors to see dolphins in cramped, featureless tanks gives little insight into the complex lives of wild dolphins in a natural environment. Dolphins being used as live surfboards, facing large crowds of people day in day out with loud music and cheering, and enduring a never-ending stream of tourists seeking that perfect selfie is not education, nor is it humane entertainment.

Join the movement to call on Expedia Group to end the sale and promotion of venues that use dolphins for entertainment, so that we can ensure this is the last generation of dolphins in captivity.