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The Danger of Captive Dolphin Encounters

Updated on January 21, 2013

Bottlenose dolphins certainly aren’t as innocent as they are often mistakenly believed. Unlike the majority of animals, they possess the self-awareness to actually understand the consequences of their behaviors, and do indeed commit violent acts against other cetaceans outside of their own family units. Yet, such misconceptions may have evolved due to how wonderfully the animals interact with humans. Humans are often enthralled with the playful and curious nature of bottle-nose dolphins and surprised by their intelligible persona. This leads people to seek out interacting with dolphins in the wild, and popularly, in captivity where ‘swimming with dolphin’ encounters are the star attractions. Such facilities are seemingly innocuous, but recently, some of the dangers of engaging in this activity are surfacing. In recent news, a little girl was filmed in graphic detail to have been attacked by a dolphin. The animal lunged out of the tank and grabbed her arm, leaving several bite marks. Her concerned parents are now 'raising awareness' by passing around this recording, blaming Seaworld for in the incident, and warning others that dolphin encounters are not as safe as they are marketed to be.

Are they serious?


"They told us to make sure the paper plate stays on the wall, but we really didn't know why."

As if obvious to anyone with the gift of perception, the animal clearly got a little overzealous in pursuing more fish from the 8 year old girl (Jillian Thomas) and accidentally grabbed her arm for a half second while lunging for the empty tray. This ‘attack’ resulted in about 3 small red bruises by what can be seen on the film that the parents were apt to shoot; running outside or making a craft could easily produce more of a concerning injury. As if the actions of the parents were not annoying enough, the rules of the dolphin exhibit were also violated. According to the article, Seaworld has warnings posted that say not to hold the cartoon in view of the animals.

As a self-avowed ‘animal person’, I am continuously frustrated and irritated by naïve people and their apparent belief that friendly-looking animals should not, and never will bite. Animals are very rewarding for humans to be around as they offer a furry (or in a dolphin's case, rubbery), mute alternative to human companionship. Interacting with other animal species is an imperative for some people. Yet obviously, animals are not inanimate objects or robots. Sometimes they can make errors or perhaps even purposely inflict harm if their discomfort is not detected by a human that doesn’t understand their mentality.

We also know that dogs, despite enjoying immense popularity as pets, are probably some of the most prominent biters that you can encounter, statistically speaking. The fact that such nips from captive dolphins are uncommon shows just how low one's chances are of being a 'victim' of bite, considering that Seaworld's exhibit probably sees hundreds of visitors a day, and probably around 1/3 of such tourists are similarly negligent to an easy to miss rule.

As for the parents in this situation, they are just being a typical example of human ridiculousness. They are either overreacting to the situation, enjoying drawing attention to themselves, or they sense the whiff of dollar bills in the air. Perhaps a mix of the three.

Dolphin Encounters are Dangerous! Ban Them! (And free the dolphins)

And like clock-work, any negative mention of a captive dolphin will inevitably bring animal rights groups proclaiming that such a situation was the result of the perils of cetacean captivity. They will make basic, unfounded claims that the animals are abused and are acting out against their ‘jailers’.

Getting an account on the safety of dolphin encounters from anti-captivity groups is like getting animal-protein recommendations from PETA.

Ask PETA or any similarly-thinking individual how much animal protein they would recommend in the human diet and they will tell you ZERO! Zero animal protein is recommended for your health, and a mere molecule of meat on your tongue will make you hemorrhage and die of immediate cirrhosis.

Anti-captivity groups will tell you that getting in the water with an imprisoned cetacean is incredibly dangerous, as the animals, suffering due to their captivity, are all intimately planning demise toward one lucky recipient out of thousands to carry out their attack on.

Jillian, your dream sucks

Not only will Jillian always be known as ‘that girl who was bitten by a dolphin’, thanks to her parents that allowed her image to be plastered all over the internet, but she also received some more negative attention for her statement saying she wants to be a dolphin trainer when she grows up.

The poor little girl who was probably embarrassed by the encounter was likely further emotionally manipulated when Samantha Berg, a former trainer at Sea World now turned ‘animal activist’, sent her a letter berating her with more animal rights diatribe on why her dream to be a dolphin trainer was actually just an example of her ignorance and cruel pursuits.

Samantha Berg is affiliated with and has taken advice from Dr.Lori Marino, who is a staunch advocate of the non-human rights movement. Berg's letter, while effectively guilt-tripping Jillian, is mainly not for her. It was a brazen attempt to use the publicity of this scenario to expose more naïve people to animal-rights ideology through specious means. That's why this 'letter', hosted on websites like 'Earth in Transition', is being posted in the comment sections that exist about this ' dolphin attack' for the public's reading pleasure.

Fatal Dolphin Attacks

Fatal attacks by the popular bottlenose dolphins do not happen, although one other such tiresome and stupid claim that anti-captivity groups make about killer whales (another type of dolphin) is that these animals have killed a few people in captivity, but never in the wild, which reveals just how damaging captivity is. It is rather ridiculous to compare an environment where the animals are always around humans, essentially incorporating humans into their hierarchy or interest, to one in the wild in which human presence is minimal, and the animals are only around them when they choose to be. Obviously, the social dynamic changes, and if the orca whales were killing humans as a result of captivity frustration, I’m glad to see that they only get frustrated about once every 3-7 years. Most of them not at all!

People of the 'free the animals from captivity' mentally often cheer on the deaths of zoo keepers, pet owners, and other animal owners all the time anyway. Sometimes to the extent of proclaiming that hopefully once they gore their evil owners, they will get shot and get 'put out of their misery'.

Bottom line, don’t let animal rights activists lie about their interest in your safety. None of them have a fleeting interest in the well-being of people who visit dolphin attractions and whether or not they may sustain non-severe injuries like that of Jillian. They only have one thing on their minds; free the dolphins. It just makes logical sense.

Sea Sponges lack nervous systems
Sea Sponges lack nervous systems | Source

Safe Animals

For people who cannot tolerate accidental (or intentional) expression from animals that might result in a break to the skin, there are a few animals that may be appropriate for them to interact with. Snails, egg-eating snakes, and marine sponges are a few candidates that I can name off the top of my head. All do not posses teeth.


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    • Melissa A Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa A Smith 

      4 years ago from New York

      You are absolutely right wensleydale! Thanks for your comment.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I got bitten on the finger once by a horse when I didn't hold my palm flat while I was giving it an apple, my mother blamed me and she was right. It absolutely boggles my mind that people think that any interaction with animals is risk free. Barbara Kingsolver and my neuropsych professor are right, most Americans have an unrealistic view of animals

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I have had dogs that grabbed my hand while getting too worked up over a treat, as I am sure most dog owners have run into the same problem. I think we should clearly ban all dogs and warn about how violent they are.

    • Melissa A Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa A Smith 

      5 years ago from New York

      That's what I believe desolatefox. Living involves risks as well.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Well, that's the risk you take, or allow your kids to take, when you deal with animals. Doesn't matter how cute they are, or how tame they seem, animals follow their own rules, not ours.

    • Melissa A Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa A Smith 

      6 years ago from New York

      I don't think SeaWorld is 'blaming' anyone. They are chalking this up to a childish error. I've made errors when I was younger and I've been hurt. Whose fault is it? I turned too abruptly and crashed my bike. Whose fault, my dad's? The bike? Who is to blame for when I squeezed my hermit crab too tight and it pinched me? It really hurt and I cried. I think that was my fault. It's not the pet stores fault. Once I tried to hand feed a squirrel and got scratched. That wasn't the forest's fault. If you don't like SeaWorld's protocols in documenting incidences that's another story. This will not make the incidences go away.

      Fmst, I clearly explained to you why I am 'distraught' about these issues. I can't stand it when people lie to further their agendas and campaign to hurt zoos and make sure I can't keep pets. It's bizarre to dislike what I write about because you consider me to be unhappy. However I wasn't born yesterday and I clearly know that you share the opposite opinion of me, probably are what I would consider an 'animal rights activist' and that you joined this website yesterday to undermine my arguments, and now you believe that calling me unhappy is your best resort now that you've failed to refute me. Therefore your announcement that you are ceasing to 'follow me' produced this facial expression :l

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Melissa you missed my point about it being an 8-year old. The dolphinarium were casting the blame on her for not following the rules, which is pretty lame to blame an 8-year old.

      I wonder why you are such an angry person? You are obviously an unhappy individual and I have no further interest following any more of your poorly informed rants.

    • Melissa A Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa A Smith 

      6 years ago from New York

      Thanks for commenting fmst. I 100% stand by my accusation that animal activists are lying when they exaggerate the dangers of dolphin encounters. If they were really public safety-concerned soccer mom-esque types, they would have similar campaigns for non-animal related issues. I have seen this time and time again; activists trying to spread fear about catching diseases from reptiles, attacks from small exotic cats that have never occurred, and many others. Their pretend interest in public safety is completely dishonest. They will say anything to get people to stop keeping animals in captivity. Evidence of my claims are plastered all over the internet. It is not exaggerated, I deal with this problem daily.

      I imagine that some 'attacks' from dolphinariums have gone unrecorded, just like the millions of dog bites in this country. The important thing is that they are -not serious injuries- and as I've stated here this occurs with nearly every toothed animal. So yes, 8-year olds will not follow the rules sometimes. Sometimes they run in the school corridors. What do we do about that? Line the inside walls with padding? No. We take the 'risk' of such minor injuries and then when they are sustained, hope that the child has learned his or her lesson, clean them up and move on.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      While I agree that intelligent adults should realize that any wild animal (or domestic for that matter) can bite, it must be remembered that (a) not all adults are intelligent and (b) we are dealing with an 8 year old child. She wasn't following the rules? She's 8 years old! Did you ever run in the corridors in school when you were 8 even though you were told not to, because you were excited and forgot? Blaming an 8 year old is a pretty shabby defense.

      Accusing all "animal activists" of lying is simply irresponsible and the writer is as guilty of gross exaggeration as she claims the activists are.

      Do dolphin attacks happen at dolphinariums? Yes. Are they frequent occurrences? No.

      However the US public should be aware that there are no federal regulations that require operators of these parks to report accidents and injuries to the public or members of their staff, so we don't have accurate statistics. They should also be aware that APHIS, the federal agency in charge of regulations pertaining to swim with the dolphins programs, suspended their regulations 13 years ago pending a review. That review is still pending.

    • Melissa A Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa A Smith 

      6 years ago from New York

      Thanks Aya, I agree.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      6 years ago from The Ozarks

      It's a shame that there is so much political posturing around non-humans these days. I think you covered this topic very well.


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