Building awareness of the threats to dolphins in the wild and what we can do to help . . .

Threats to Wild Dolphins

Choices that Matter

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Organizations Making a Difference for Dolphin Well-Being

Organizations that focus on dolphins and whales:

  1. Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society - Works hard with very modest resources primarily to stop commercial whaling and to setup marine protected areas.  One of the few organizations working for the benefit of captive dolphins.

  2. Blue Voice - A small but longtime champion for dolphins in the wild.  Focuses on popularizing knowledge about dolphins and coordinating important areas of research.

  3. Act for Dolphins - A group of marine scientists and zoo and aquarium professionals working to stop the dolphin drive hunts in Japan.

  4. Ocean Alliance - Focused on the well being of whales and research into the effects of ocean pollution.

  5. Cetacean Alliance - Mediterranean umbrella group of local ngo’s working, largely through research, to learn what is necessary to limit human impact on cetaceans.

  6. Dolphin Safe Program of Earth Island Institute - Originated and manages the most effective dolphin safe label for consumers of canned tuna.  Hugely successful at reducing the number of dolphins killed in tuna fishing.

Organizations that focus on oceans:

  1. Oceana - Focuses on policy issues including energy, pollution, fishing, and animal protection (though not specifically whales or dolphins) - and supports hard science to backup policy decisions.

  2. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - Activists who engage in direct intervention, sometimes controversial, but always unflinchingly trying to save the lives of dolphins and whales.  It also focuses on other marine mammals, sharks, and overfishing.

  3. Ocean Conservancy - Venerable organization focused on the health of the oceans in general and creating marine protected areas.

Large organizations that include issues important to dolphins:

  1. World Society for the Protection of Animals - Provides very focused work against dolphin captivity.  They make an excellent argument against the use of dolphins for any public entertainment or ‘therapeutic’ purposes.

  2. World Wildlife Federation - Works for better fishing policies, the establishment of marine protected areas, and specific programs to stop whaling and address the problems of bycatch.

  3. Natural Resources Defense Council - Of note primarily for a specific program to challenge the use of dangerous navy sonar which kills and deafens dolphins and whales.

  4. Greenpeace - Fights loudly against whaling and ocean pollution.

  5. Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) - An independent campaigning organisation committed to bringing about change that protects the natural world from environmental crime and abuse

For a general survey of organizations working to preserve and protect the oceans, visit this excellent resource:

In the wild, dolphins face many manmade threats to their well-being.  There are direct threats from countries that still permit the hunting of dolphins for food or their capture for entertainment.  But there are even greater threats from indirect sources like industrial fishing where dolphins are caught in large numbers as bycatch or in discarded gear. 

We ask ourselves: 

  1. Are there ways in which our personal choices can help to mitigate (or at least not contribute to) these threats?

  1. Are there organizations we can support that are working towards the regulatory changes that are required to protect dolphins?

  1. Click here to jump to a (provisional) summary of the threats we have identified. 

  2. Click here to jump to a list of organizations that you can support.

Or read on to learn more about the moral basis for our responsibility to avoid causing suffering to dolphins and other intelligent animals.

Dolphins Are People Too

Thinking and feeling are remarkably similar in humans and dolphins, according to the preponderance of scientific evidence.  With their large brains (larger than human, and second only to human when corrected for body mass), dolphins demonstrate self-awareness, the ability to think about their own thoughts, and a sense of identity.  They are also capable of thinking abstractly, even planning and strategizing about the future (in one  compelling example, dolphins were rewarded with fish for cleaning their tanks, so one dolphin stockpiled trash in a secret niche; then when she noticed that small pieces were rewarded the same as large, she began tearing little pieces to maximize her treats - she was training her trainers to reward her for less and less trash). Dolphins also have an appreciation for creativity - when requested to be ‘original’, they figure out what is required about as fast as humans presented with a similar test.

All of this intelligence complements their vivid social lives in complex groups where family bonds and friendships last a lifetime. Mothers and babies bond during a prolonged period of nursing (two or more years) and education.  Like humans - but unlike most other animals -baby dolphins must learn their rich vocal language; and they do so much as human babies by first babbling and then eventually making more specific sounds. Dolphins are also among the very few species aside from humans where grand-mothering is so important that females have a substantial period of life after menopause.   Sisters and friends babysit for each other.  They demonstrate profound altruism, helping whales, their distant cousins, give birth.  They mourn their dead.

  1. “Dolphins are sophisticated, self-aware, highly intelligent beings with individual personalities, autonomy and an inner life. They are vulnerable to tremendous suffering and psychological trauma.”  - Dr. Lori Marino

For these reasons, some scientists and ethicists have declared that dolphins (and other large-brained cetaceans) deserve to be treated as non-human ‘persons’, with similar rights and protections as our fellow homo sapiens.

One crucial difference, however, separates us: through technology and unchecked population growth humans are changing the environment at a mind boggling rate, sometimes in ways that are harmful to other species.  As intelligent and capable as dolphins are, they have few means to counter our adverse effects on their habitat.  Consequently, it is entirely our responsibility to consider the welfare of dolphins (and all the other creatures with whom we share this planet) and minimize the threats our collective lifestyle imposes on them.

Banksy’s re-appropriated dolphin ride for kids: complete with performing captive dolphin, oil spill, toxic chemicals, and fishing gear.

Last Updated: 04/2012

Click For Description Of Threats