The Truth Behind Mexico's Swim-With-Dolphins Industry
An Animal Rights Article from

FROM Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project
August 2019

One Mexican state, Quintana Roo, is a little over 34,000 square kilometers and they have packed in 19 facilities that spend each day profiting off of the exploitation of dolphins. In this blog we are going to tell you about the well known company called Dolphinaris and what our volunteers found when they visited their facilities.

Mexico dolphins

Exploited for Entertainment

At one point or another, we have all probably seen a friend or family member post a photo online of their captive dolphin experience while on vacation. The captive dolphin tourism industry is an incredibly profitable one that has always placed a monetary value on the lives of the animals in their care. They have used the myth of the “dolphin’s smile” to lure in families and vacationers, but it is time to expose the truth. The dolphins in Mexico have gone without a voice for too long.

Recently, as part of the Empty the Tanks campaign we had volunteers travel to Mexico in order to document the dolphin captivity facilities within the state of Quintana Roo. Quintana Roo is a tourism hotspot where locations such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Cozumel reside. The state of Quintana Roo is a little over 34,000 square kilometers and they have packed in 19 facilities that spend each day profiting off of the exploitation of dolphins.

For more than 30 years the captivity industry in Mexico has deceived us with their false claims and marketing. During these years they have ignored the scientific facts about the animals they are exploiting. It is time they acknowledge the complexities, emotions and intelligence of all cetaceans.

The Mexican tourism industry expects nearly 45 million people to visit the country in 2019. Mexico is the 8th most visited country in the world. With tourism numbers continuing to grow each year, it is also important to increase efforts to educate tourists about dolphin captivity throughout the country.

Our volunteers visited all 19 swim-with-dolphins facilities in the state in order to obtain more information about the health of the dolphins there, as well as to document the activities taking place. What they discovered were astonishingly small tanks, some of which are only feet from the ocean, full of dolphins that showed restless and stereotypic behaviors. Each day the dolphins must earn their meals by doing tricks and entertaining paying tourists.

In this blog we are going to tell you about the well known company called Dolphinaris and what our volunteers found when they visited their facilities.

Mexico dolphins
There are 19 dolphin captivity facilities in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Credit: Empty the Tanks

There are three dolphin swim-with companies operating in Quintana Roo – Dolphinaris, Delphinus, and Dolphin Discovery. These three companies run the 19 captive facilities in the state.

Dolphinaris operates five swim-with dolphins operations in Quintana Roo. Their company is also responsible for the now closed facility in Arizona, which resulted in the death of four dolphins in the two years it was open. Our volunteers found the Dolphinaris tanks the smallest and worst out of all 19 that they visited. The tanks at the Dolphinaris locations are comparable to a typical swimming pool. They are barren, filled with harsh chemicals and there were no “toys” or enrichment objects in sight. The lack of shade shocked our team as well.

“The staff have chairs and umbrellas to protect them from the intense sun and heat, but the dolphins had little to no to shade for their tanks.”

Mexico dolphins
The Dolphinaris tanks provide no shade or enrichment for the dolphins. Credit: Empty the Tanks/Dolphin Project

They reported that several dolphins at Dolphinaris inside the Grand Bahia Principe Resort seemed to never open their eyes. Anonymous staff members have stated that the dolphins suffer from eye damage from the sun and chemicals they are exposed to.

During their visit to Dolphinaris’s Cancun location our volunteers watched two dolphins floating at the surface, facing one another with bars between them for 30 minutes. Dolphins at multiple locations were observed just floating at the surface of the water until they would drop to the bottom of the tank where they would lie for a few minutes before floating back up to the surface. Their report also described a single dolphin at the Cancun location being repeatedly chased and harassed by tank mates with no place to escape to.

Mexico dolphins
Dolphins at the Bahia Princeipe Bahia resort were reported to never open their eyes when our volunteers were there documenting. Credit: Empty the Tanks/Dolphin Project

Mexico dolphins
Dolphins at the Dolphinaris Cancun location were observed floating at the surface for long periods while facing each other through a closed gate. Credit: Empty the Tanks/Dolphin Project

They also documented dolphins with badly discolored and scarred rostrums. A dolphin at Grand Bahia Principe Resort location also had a wound on his or her dorsal fin. The dolphin was also covered in noticeable rake marks from tank mates.

Mexico dolphins
Damaged rostrums were also a common sight at all five of the Dolphinaris locations. Credit: Empty the Tanks/Dolphin Project

The most concerning thing that our volunteers discovered was at the Dolphinaris Riviera Maya Park location. Video received anonymously shows three different dates of drone footage over Dolphinaris Riviera Maya [watch the VIDEO HERE ON VIMEO]:

  • December 12, 2018 – video showed a total of 16 dolphins swimming around the tanks.
  • January 27, 2019 – video showed a total of 17 dolphins ,which includes a baby swimming with his or her mother in a back tank.
  • February 2, 2019 – video shows the number of dolphins is again at 16 with no baby in view anymore. The back pool where the young baby dolphin and the assumed mother were last seen is empty.

Anonymous sources confirmed to both Empty the Tanks and our friends at Dolphin Freedom Mexico, that the young dolphin we were sent video of did die only a few days after birth. We learned from one of our sources in Mexico that captive facilities do not officially acknowledge or report the birth of dolphin calves until they are at least six months of age. We can only begin to guess how many young dolphins have died in the tanks in Mexico.

We are asking you to take swimming with dolphins OFF your bucket list. We have created a list of companies that currently support dolphin captivity in Quintana Roo, Mexico. These companies either sell tickets and excursions to these exploitive facilities, or they keep dolphins in captivity at their resorts and parks. We urge you to contact these companies and ask them to stop supporting the outdated and cruel practice of keeping dolphins in captivity.

Mexico dolphins

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