When I heard that you could swim with dolphins in Sharm el Sheikh I leapt at the chance. This was a long-held dream of mine and I was over the moon. It was a spur of the moment decision that I now regret.
Before we had left England I had looked at what excursions were available and for other ideas of things to do but I had not come across swimming with dolphins as an option.
I had heard of dolphin enclosures that are connected to the sea where people can swim with the dolphins. In this case the dolphins are free to come and go as they please. I assumed that this was where my encounter would be.
Having paid up (a lot!) it occurred to me that I should make sure. When I checked, these were indeed captive dolphins. I was told not to worry as they had been born in captivity, as if that made it alright!
I was now in two minds. Should I go as planned, then write about the experience and, more importantly, see what I could find out about the ethics of swimming with dolphins and share my findings. Alternatively, should I simply not go?
When I arrived at the pool it felt so very wrong to see them in captivity. Again I questioned my morals and whether I should simply walk away. In the end I decided to go ahead. Their ‘owners’ already had my money and would hardly care if I walked out. Plus at the very least I could share the experience with you and leave you to make up your own minds as I’m sure many of you share my dream of swimming with dolphins.
Irrelevant of the morals, the experience itself was a let down and nothing much more than a photo-shoot, as each person took it in turn to pose with the dolphins in one way then another. Neill had paid £10 just to come along to watch and to video it. While he was allowed to take photographs, videos were not allowed. Also, spectators were not able to walk around the pool to the side where we would be. This was so that the dolphinarium could try to sell us their outrageously priced photographs and video.
I did not enjoy the experience at all and was left feeling sad and guilty.
I have since contacted a number of organisations and here is my interpretation of the information Laura from the International Marine Mammal Project, Earth Island Institute gave me.
Forced to perform through starvation
Captive dolphins are kept constantly hungry as part of their training and to ensure they perform. Dolphins in the wild do not jump through hoops, eat dead fish, wave, kiss or drag people through the water as they hold onto their fins. This is all behaviour forced on them in captivity. Without routine starvation the dolphins would not perform. Can you imagine how this must feel?
Wild dolphins constantly travel, covering thousands of miles every year experiencing a wide diversity of natural habitat and the freedom to deep dive. Can you imagine what it must be like to be confined to a small, unnatural pool, where you are forced to go endlessly round in circles?
Capturing dolphins from the wild
Most dolphins held in captivity were captured from the wild.
Dolphins live in highly complex, close-knit social units, known as pods. The capturing of dolphins isn’t just extremely stressful for the individual taken, it deeply affects the whole pod. Can you imagine what it must be like to have a member of your family kidnapped?
Worse still in the process of capturing a dolphin the entire pod maybe killed. In Taiji, Japan, when a few dolphins in a pod are selected for captivity the whole pod is driven a shore and the majority are inhumanely killed. Thousands are killed in this way each year.
Dolphins are known to be highly intelligent, self-aware animals. If tourists, like myself (guilty as charged) stopped going to these facilities, than this inhumane treatment of dolphins would stop.
Swimming with dolphins in the wild
Not long after I returned to England, I came across a book ‘Swimming with Dolphins, Tracking Gorillas – How to have the world’s best wildlife encounters’ and immediately bought a copy.
It’s packed with advice about how to have a great variety of wildlife encounters without harming the animals or their environment. Ian recommends a number of ethical companies that offer dolphin swims in the wild, one of which is Dolphin Swims in Egypt.
“The only sound is the hypnotic chant of our engine as we chug out to sea. Then to the left comes a splash. A dolphin! They’re surfing in our wake now, playing, squeaking. We cut the engine and I slip overboard as quietly as possible, surrounded by whistles and clicks. Suddenly there they are, emerging from the blue, six, no seven, heading straight towards me. A mother and calf encircle, clicking, smiling round and round… Then it’s over and I watch them fade back into the deep.” Amanda Stafford, Dolphin Swims (Egypt, Red Sea)
Surely that is how an encounter should be. I really feel ashamed that I supported these animals being kept in captivity, especially after reading the article below.
Is it wrong to swim with dolphins? By Elizabeth Diffin, BBC News Magazine