Stereotypical behavior, or abnormal behavior, in dolphins is a symptom of lack of stimulation and boredom. While in captivity, these dolphins are reduced to small barren tanks, kept away from certain members of the pod, and are told when to eat and exercise. The dolphins at the Mirage are no different. Only the main tank has a coral bottom, and to be honest, I never really see the dolphins interacting with it much. Even when they have their “enrichment toys”, you will find them waiting at the gate.
Displays of Aggression
Swimming in Circles
there’s an abundance of evidence that shows that dolphins and whales in captivity show a lot of the same abnormal behaviors that are exhibited by other animals in captivity. These include things like stereotypes where they do repeated movements, self mutilation and just basically other behaviors associated with being psychologically disturbed. There are also several peer-reviewed studies that have shown elevated stress hormones in dolphins and whales in captivity.
So there really is no way that an artificial setting could provide an opportunity for the range of natural behaviors that dolphins enjoy in the wild, just from a physical point of view. The largest tank in the world is something like less than one ten-thousandth of one percent of the natural range of most dolphins and whales. So there’s physically no way that these animals could exhibit natural behaviors in captivity.
I know that some members of the captivity industry have made the point that in captivity these animals are fed fish and they don’t need to deal with the stress of capturing their own prey. But in fact, being fed dead fish can be a stress. In the wild, they really enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with each other and catch prey and travel with their companions, and basically work for their prey. In captivity, all of that stimulation is taken away. – Dr Lori Marino