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Why Dolphin “Happiness” Study is a Sham

Why Dolphin “Happiness” Study is a Sham

A scientific study attempting to measure the “happiness” of imprisoned dolphins was recently released with findings that will sadden anyone who knows or cares about dolphins.

Published in the journal, Applied Animal Behavior Science, the study continues a long and frustrating tradition of attempting to gauge dolphin “happiness” in captivity – obscuring the reality  that there is never a good reason to keep dolphins captive, be it for research, entertainment, or human “therapy” benefit.

The study set out to discover which activities captive dolphins at Parc Astérix in France are most “enthusiastic” about. Dolphins are extremely limited in the activities they may engage in within the confines of largely barren concrete tanks compared with the vibrant and complex life they enjoy in the world.

We argue that the results are based on flawed assumptions – the biggest one being that dolphins can be happy in captivity in the first place.

Of their limited captive activities, researchers compared three: dolphins interacting with human trainers; interacting with toys; or with one another. The study claims that dolphins "look forward the most” to interactions with familiar humans. The researchers seem to ignore the most likely explanation for this result: captive dolphins are denied the choice of when, or how much, to eat, since its always humans who toss them dead fish. It is often common practice at many aquariums to use hunger to compel dolphins to continue performing tricks on a daily basis. It could therefore be possible that these dolphins are acting “enthusiastic” toward humans because they are chronically hungry.

Wild marine animal researcher Dr. Susanne Schultz also called the findings into question, and stated to the BBC, “Just because a dolphin interacts with you doesn't mean that [they] would choose that lifestyle if [they were] given a choice." 

Denying freedom of choice to dolphins is at the core of the issue of keeping these highly intelligent animals captive, since it forms the basis of a captive dolphin’s daily experiences. Captive-born dolphins never know a life where they get to choose who they become, who they spend time with, what and when to eat, or where to travel. The habitual denial of captive dolphins’ basic instincts and desires likely contributes to their high rates of stress, disease, and premature death.

This study will likely prop up the animal captivity industry, which unfortunately continues to grow in some areas of the United States, in spite of increasing legislation and public backlash. Please act now in defense of captive dolphins.

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