Having a real-life encounter with a whale or dolphin can be pretty cool – an amazing experience that can be awe-inspiring, astounding, and even life-changing for some. But having that experience with captive whales and dolphins is a hollow, false representation of the joy of seeing wild whales and dolphins. Interacting with individuals who are forced to participate and have no escape strategy, or with wild dolphins who are constantly, disturbed by human presence and harassment, is bad for the whales and dolphins involved, and potentially bad for people, too.
In so-called “wild encounter” programs that involve people entering the water with whales and dolphins, specific populations are targeted and harassed by companies taking people out to interact with them. Whale and dolphin populations local to specific areas may have favorite spots to forage, rest, or socialize, and when they are close to highly-populated areas, people notice and take advantage of it. In Hawaii, spinner dolphins seek out sheltered coves and bays to rest during the day. Tour organizations bring people out to “swim with” these resting dolphins, disturbing that vital behavior and even harassing them to the point that the dolphins may abandon favored areas.
Instead of seeking out ways to get “up close and personal” with whales and dolphins – in captivity or in the wild – you can find a responsible whale watching organization and have a “wild experience” without disturbing or harassing the whales and dolphins. A little bit of research (or a review of WDC’s new worldwide guide) on responsible practices and certifications, like Whale Sense or Dolphin Smart, can help you choose a tour operator. If you’re headed out on a recreational boat, review our See a Spout tips for safe boating around whales. Land-based whale watching is another excellent option and is possible pretty much anywhere that whales and dolphins live. Both coasts of the US actually have great coastal whale and dolphin watching! For a great land-based experience, just a little bit of research on the best seasons, times, and places to see these creatures can turn into some amazing sightings (without any risk of seasickness).
Watching wild whales and dolphins who are free to make their own choices and behave naturally is incomparable to viewing their captive cousins, sadly forced to perform silly tricks for a reward. It is incredibly sad to watch these wild and beautiful creatures have their choices and freedom taken away, and captive interactions are inevitably a let-down. Many people report feeling disappointed after participating in an encounter or swim-with program, as the experience was far from the natural wildlife encounter they were hoping for. Viewing whales and dolphins in the wild can also help inspire behavior to help conserve and protect them, something that has been lacking in captive parks.
New technologies may make close-up viewings possible with a much-reduced risk of harassing whales and dolphins. Virtual technology has the potential to bring the exciting underwater world directly to people without the devastation of holding whales and dolphins in captivity, or harassment of those in the wild. These interactive displays could allow people to view whales and dolphins, and even interact with them, in completely virtual representations. These “reality shows” may indeed be the future for viewing whales and dolphins away from the ocean and their natural habitat, hopefully phasing out marine parks and the cruel practice of captivity. For some really cool videos on the possibilities of these virtual displays, check out the portfolio of INDE, a leader in the field.
Show your commitment to ending captivity for all whales and dolphins by taking our Pledge Never to Plunge. Educate yourself and others about the truth behind dolphin encounters and swim-with programs, and seek out alternative ways to experience these amazing creatures.
Remember, in the United States, all marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and getting too close can put yourselves and the whales and dolphins in danger! In our quest for closer experiences with nature, people are increasingly taking unnecessary risks to obtain the perfect selfie or GoPro video. Risking your safety and harassing whales and dolphins isn’t worth going viral – the memory of the experience will be amazing enough. If you see them in the wild, stay a safe distance away and just enjoy watching them be wild whales and dolphins!