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Video Shows Everything That's Wrong With Keeping Dolphins In Tanks

This isn't normal — or healthy.

In a new video, a Risso’s dolphin stands upright in an ocean pool as a man siphons water into her stomach with a long plastic tube. The dolphin doesn’t fight it — she remains still for as long as the tube remains in her throat, only dipping below the surface once the tube’s removed.

It’s hard to tell what the dolphin is feeling, but she’s probably miserable.

Man forcing water into a dolphin through a feeding tube
A trainer forcing water into a dolphin through a feeding tube | Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project

In the wild, dolphins don’t need to be given water through a tube — they get all the hydration they need from the fish they eat. But this dolphin lives in captivity at the Taiji Whale Museum in Taiji, Japan, and she doesn’t have the freedom to find her own fish. Instead, she has to rely on handouts of frozen fish. When defrosted, frozen fish loses most of its water, which is why the dolphins need this extra hydration.

While the tubing process itself wouldn’t necessarily hurt the dolphin, Heather Rally, a marine mammal veterinarian who currently works with the PETA Foundation, explained that the dolphin definitely wouldn’t like it.

“It is likely uncomfortable to the dolphin, and can cause irritation to the esophagus or introduce unwanted pathogens if not performed correctly,” Rally told The Dodo. “Tubing is another in a long line of unnatural procedures imposed upon animals like dolphins and whales who are kept in captivity — a health risk in and of itself — out of necessity to help keep them alive in a foreign environment unsuitable to their long-term well-being.”

Man forcing water into dolphin's body through feeding tube
As the trainer force-feeds the Risso's dolphin water through a feeding tube, another dolphin bobs in the water beside her. | Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project

But if the dolphin didn’t get this extra hydration, she could face other health issues.

“If dolphins don't consume enough water to maintain a healthy hydration status, they would become dehydrated — and ultimately, if dehydration progresses and isn't corrected, this can lead to hypovolemic shock, multi-organ failure and death,” Rally said.

But it’s not just dehydration that’s dangerous to the dolphin — it’s captivity itself. “While dehydration can be treated through artificial means like intubation or supplementing an animal's diet with ice cubes or gelatin, captivity is hard on marine mammals and has a documented negative impact on their longevity and quality of life,” Rally said.

Trainers feeding captive dolphins
Trainers at the Taiji Whale Museum tend to the captive dolphins in one of their ocean pools — when living in captivity, dolphins and whales face a plethora of health issues | Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project

“Everything about life for marine animals in captivity is artificial, including being confined to tiny concrete tanks, being separated from their families, being forced to live either in lonely isolation or with animals they may fight with, being given antianxiety drugs — as is an admitted practice at facilities like SeaWorld — to relieve the stress of captivity, and endlessly swimming in small circles,” she added. “The necessity of having to hydrate an animal forcibly through tubing and other methods is just one more example of how unnatural and damaging life in captivity is for these animals.”

This dolphin was almost certainly captured from the wild during one of the dolphin drive hunts that take place each year off the coast of Taiji, Japan.

Wild dolphins trapped in cove
A pod of wild dolphins after being driven into the killing cove in Taiji, Japan, in 2017 | Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Each year, fishermen in Taiji drive boats out into the open ocean to locate pods of wild dolphins. Then the fishermen bang metal poles against their hulls to create “walls of sound” that prevent the dolphins from swimming away. Once the fishermen have rounded up the dolphins, they drive them into a nearby cove and slaughter them for their meat, often right in front of their family members.

Red blood in the cove after people kill dolphins
The cove filled with dolphin blood after a mass slaughter in Taiji during a previous hunt | Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project

But before the killing happens, people choose the most attractive dolphins to sell to dolphinariums and swim-with-the-dolphins programs around the world.

“Some live captures may be transported to other facilities, but this one was placed at the Taiji Whale Museum,” Christine Gau, program coordinator for Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, told The Dodo.

While it may be too late to help this Risso’s dolphin, animal welfare advocates hope to stop the dolphin slaughter in Taiji for good.

“The annual Taiji dolphin slaughter will end when the Japanese people rise up against it,” Ric O’Barry told The Dodo. “Our work is about facilitating that effort. The traffic in Taiji dolphins will end when the multi-billion dollar captivity industry starts policing its own industry.”

The best way to fight this issue is to not buy a ticket to dolphin shows, according to Gau. “Captive cetaceans like this Risso’s dolphin can only be saved if international demand for captive entertainment ends,” she said.

To help stop the capture and slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, you can make a donation to Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project.