Maybe you clicked on this post because you want to swim with captive dolphins or ride elephants while travelling. Or maybe you were intrigued if I might promote such an unethical abuse of our tourist power?
If you take one thing away from anything I have written on this website, let it be this…
We have an obligation as visitors to other countries to respect their culture and their environment. This includes their animals. Our obligation includes not participating in any activity that is exploitative of the people or the animals of the place we are visiting.
You don’t need to watch documentaries such as The Cove or Blackfish to know that putting an animal meant to swim free in a tiny tank is cruel. Likewise, you don’t need to be an expert on elephants to know that the rocking back and forth behaviour they exhibit while chained up waiting for the next tourist to ride them is a sign of stress. If you are ever uncertain if an activity is unethical or abusive to animals, err on the side of caution and avoid it. Even those friendly tigers tourists get their photos snapped with… not natural. Don’t do it.
Some places have caught on to this animal rights movement and have gone as far as to promote their facilities as rescue sanctuaries to make you feel better about coming. There are some legitimate sanctuaries where you can visit these animals; I went to one in Chiang Mai, Thailand. But you need to do your research as not every “sanctuary” is actually ethical towards how they treat their animals. The sanctuary in Chiang Mai did not allow us to ride the elephants and we were all required to watch a video on the abuse elephants in the tourism industry face in Thailand before we could be introduced to the elephants that had been rescued and lived there. The best recommendation I have is to do your research before attending any of these “sanctuaries” to ensure they are legit.
If you are really keen to swim with dolphins, then I suggest getting your PADI certification and jumping in their habitat, hoping they will approach you. And they will. As an advanced PADI diver, I have had the opportunity to dive and snorkel with dolphins in Hawaii, Panama, and Honduras. Dolphins are naturally curious and
intelligent animals and will approach you on their terms when they feel safe. I cannot count the number of times I have had dolphins approach the bow of a boat I’ve been on, joining us for a ride in our wake.
Rather than the artificial experiences these swim with dolphin/ride with elephant advertise, get out there in nature and let these beautiful creatures approach you. I guarantee that if you spend enough time out on the water, you will have a dolphin encounter more amazing than anything Sea World can sell you!
For more information, a simple Google search of “ethical travel” will provide you with more information on how to reduce your impact on the places you visit, including how to enjoy nature in the mostnatural way. For those who are still intent on visiting aquariums, Sea World and participating in swim with dolphin programs, please watch “the Cove” and “Blackfish” beforehand to know exactly what you are doing.