Last weekend, JP and I had the opportunity to swim with a young dolphin named Iggy at Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida. It was a very special experience.
It's true that in general, "swimming with the dolphins" is a touristy thing to do, and I have a hard time when I think about some of the places that offer this activity. I worry that the dolphins -- incredibly gentle, beautiful and intelligent creatures (more intelligent than humans, I'd argue!) -- are not cared for properly in many facilities, and don't have the space, love and attention they deserve. Some people would argue that no dolphins should be kept in captivity anywhere, and I would have a hard time arguing against them. At the same time, I can't deny the educational value of people meeting and learning about dolphins, and the love and respect I see on people's faces when they interact with these unique animals. I hope these interactions inspire more people to work to protect them and other marine mammals.
I did get the strong sense that the dolphins at Discovery Cove were well cared for, respected, and loved by the staff. They had very large pools; we couldn't even see to the end. Their time with visitors was limited and they got a lot of time out of the reach of humans. We spent a half hour in the water with Iggy, who was born at Seaworld and whose mother and grandmother are still there with him, and we were taught all kinds of things about him while he inspected us, let us pet him, and interacted with us through hand signals and responses. The instructor in the water with us clearly adored Iggy and knew him well, and didn't force Iggy to do anything he didn't want to do. She made it very clear that whatever happened was up to Iggy.
The experience was something I will never forget. Iggy was fun-loving, curious, intelligent and gentle. I miss him already.
It is incomprehensible to me that some countries, like Japan, actually hunt these creatures. If I think about it too much, I can't sleep at night.