Dolphin Facts

Are dolphins fish?

No.  Although some people think that dolphins are fish, because they live in the water, they are actually mammals. They have the same characteristics that all mammals have such as; they nurse their young, they give live birth, they are warm blooded and (believe it or not) they are born with hair along their rostrum which falls out shortly after birth.

Do dolphins sleep?

Yes but not in the same manner as humans. There are no defined rest periods for most dolphins and whales because they are subject to constantly changing environmental conditions and must stay alert to react to potential threats or threats to their offspring.  Instead, it is theorized that they rest one brain hemisphere at a time, so they can remain alert and get rest simultaneously.  Sleep behavior and rest periods are also affected by environmental conditions such as food availability, migratory patterns and changes in ocean conditions seasonally.

How do you tell them apart?

Each dolphin has individual characteristics, such as body type, vocal sounds, behavioral patterns, scars, scratches, coloration and body shape.  Just as parents can easily see the difference in their identical twins, or pet owners can easily spot differences in their golden retrievers, dolphin trainers can clearly identify individual dolphins even from a distance.

Were all the dolphins born at IDC?

Six of our dolphins were born at IDC, and two were collected in the 1980’s as allowed by US Marine Mammal Protection Act, which grants permits under strict conditions and only for certain activities that support marine mammal conservation, as we do. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) establishes that captive breeding programs are critical components of wildlife conservation, not just for dolphins and whales, but for many threatened and endangered species worldwide.

In what conditions do dolphins live at IDC and are they well-adapted?

All the dolphins housed at Island Dolphin Care are Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).  Six of our animals were born at our facility and two adult females were collected from coastal Florida waters over 30 years ago as allowed by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.   Since these animals are native to Florida coastal environments, they are accustomed to the environmental conditions.  IDC dolphins live in a natural ocean water setting with live fish, lobsters, invertebrates, plants and live corals.  On occasion, manatees and even wild dolphins will stop by for a visit.

Can dolphins from IDC be returned to the wild?

Dolphins under human care are protected from environmental hazards and threats, such as pollution and other hazards caused by increasing human impact, predators, and other stressors. Being raised away from the wild, these dolphins haven’t learned how to tackle unknown and unpredictable situations, and they will be less likely to overcome the challenges that they will encounter daily. Additionally, with the amount of pollution being introduced into the wild environment every day it is becoming intolerable for many species of animals to survive. It is impossible to simulate all environmental factors in order to train the dolphins to survive in the wild. Comparatively, it would be like leaving a modern, urban person in a rainforest, and expecting him/her to survive. Unless you are born and raised in a wild environment you cannot know how to survive.

We, at IDC, care about the dolphins’ safety and health, and we provide the best environment possible for them through training, health care and environmental enrichment.

Do the dolphins get enough food?

Dolphins at IDC eat their full diet every single day unlike wild animals that must forage for food under extreme environmental conditions.  IDC dolphins have high quality food prepared, according to each animal’s needs. The food is inspected, and each animal’s individual diet is managed for optimal health.  Food is delivered 3 to 10 times a day, depending on daily dietary needs, enrichment activities, play time and enrichment schedule. The food is also supplemented with vitamins, minerals and hydration of which wild animals do not have access. Everything is prescribed by Curatorial specialists and Marine Mammal  Veterinarians.   All dolphins are constantly monitored to ensure optimum growth and health.

How much food do dolphins eat per day?

On average, a nursing calf eats 1-3 pounds/day, an adult eats 17-35 pounds/day and a lactating female eats 44-55 pounds/day. More particularly, the ingestion of calories is most critical and an average size adult bottlenose dolphin needs 7000-9000 calories per day to maintain optimal health.

How long do dolphins in human care live?

Dolphins in human care can live beyond 60 years old in quality care environments.  The oldest known dolphin, lived at Marineland, St. Augustine, Florida, while a study research in the Indian River Lagoon found that in the average age of wild dolphins collected for a biological survey was 10 years of age. The causes of the early losses in nature are due to environmental stressors, diseases, water pollutants, absence of health care and food availability.  Many species are now living longer than expected in zoos and aquariums due to high quality health care and behavior management.

Do dolphins get stressed?

All animals are exposed to stressors in their life both in the wild and in marine mammal facilities.  Stress, to a certain degree, is a normal part of the daily experience for all animals, including humans.  However, we mitigate high stress through conditioning and training where we teach animals to remain calm and relaxed under novel environmental conditions.  We ensure that animals are not exposed to stressors that which they are unable to cope. In the wild, they can be exposed to extreme levels of stress, such as predation, disease, boat strikes, extreme weather, harmful algal blooms, entanglement in fishing line or nets, oil and toxic chemical spills, fish depletion due to overfishing and even aggression from other marine animals which can sometimes be fatal.

How do you monitor the dolphins’ health status?

The dolphins are observed daily by on-site veterinary, animal care and medical support staff who constantly monitor their diet, health and behavior. We also have on-site laboratories and state of the art laboratory equipment that facilitates rapid diagnoses if necessary.  All marine mammal programs in the United States must adhere to the Animal Welfare Act.  Compliance is regulated by the US Department of Agriculture and monitored by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  USDA officials and veterinarians visit and inspect each marine mammal facility bi-annually (and sometimes more often) to ensure compliance with U.S. law.  Results of these inspections are made available for public review.

Have dolphins ever shown signs of stress? 

All animals and humans are exposed to stress stimuli every day. At IDC we manage our dolphin’s environment so they are not exposed to a level of stress that would be unhealthy for them, such as marine mammals are exposed to in the wild due to human impact, (just as loving parents or teachers would do to protect children).  Unhealthy stress can be monitored via direct behavioral, dietary and health changes although we have not experienced this at IDC.

Have dolphins ever died otherwise than by age?

Like humans (or any animal for that matter), dolphins can succumb from common diseases despite modern medical/veterinary treatments, although this is rare.  Unfortunately, many of us have experienced the premature loss of a family member or friend through no fault of our own.  This is an unfortunate fact of life. However, the good news is that dolphins live much longer in high quality environments where health care, high quality food, stimulating environments and protection from hazards is available.   Animals that don’t have access to health care, such as wild dolphins, often die prematurely at much greater rates.  For many species living in zoos and aquariums, life spans have increased dramatically in the last fifty years and animals are often living beyond their life expectancy.  The oldest known dolphins lived into her early sixties at Marineland of St. Augustine, well beyond the oldest known wild dolphin.

How are the dolphins trained?

The dolphins are trained through a combination of observational learning (observing and imitating other animals), respondent and operant conditioning (the mechanism by which most behaviors are shaped). These principles exist in wild environments as well but in managed care, only positive reinforcement is applied by the trainers as required by the U.S. Animal Welfare Act.

Are the dolphins chosen for therapy based on their behavioral traits?

No. All the dolphins can learn the necessary behaviors for a wide variety of programs. These behaviors are shaped and conditioned so that both animals and clients receive variety, fun and enrichment on a daily basis.

Are the dolphins for therapy trained in a different way than dolphins in aquatic parks? 

Principles practiced at IDC for both animals and clients conform to Applied Behavior Analysis where appropriate behaviors are strengthened through positive reinforcement and unwanted behaviors are simply ignored.  This provides a positive, fun and encouraging learning environment for animals, without the fear of failure, and helps strengthen the bond between trainers and animals.  As a result, our dolphins remain highly motivated to learn new things.

Are dolphins assigned to clients based on their characteristics?

Generally, no, because all the dolphins are capable of interacting with any client.  In some cases however, very young animals may be paired with a more experienced animal so that they have an opportunity to learn by observing.

How do you maintain the balance between benefiting humans and taking advantage of the dolphins?

Each individual dolphin is cared for with its own needs met, 365 days per year.  And, while humans certainly benefit from the privilege of interacting with dolphins at IDC, the dolphins benefit in a number of areas including access to safe, enriching and healthy environments where they can express all normal behavior.  This is something that is becoming increasingly rare with the challenges facing our environment due to increasing encroachment by humans into wild places.  Additionally, the species benefits through research, medical advancements and public awareness as intended with the passage of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.  This law specifically authorized marine mammal facilities as they directly benefit wild dolphins and the sustainability of our oceans.



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