Can You Own A Pet Dolphin?

Do dolphins make good pets? No, they really don’t! Even though there is no specific law telling you it’s illegal, you would have problems finding one for sale. But keeping the pet at your place would be even more challenging. Just think about the giant tank you would need for keeping a dolphin as a pet.

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Friendly dolphin looking into the camera

Is It Legal To Own A Pet Dolphin?

In the United States, there is no specific law codified to protect dolphins and their welfare. However, laws in the USA are designed to govern how wild dolphins are captured and confined. 

Dolphins are a part of the whale family in the order of Cetacea. According to a thorough Westlaw search of U.S. state statutes, California is the single state in the U.S. that has banned the breeding or selling of particular cetaceans.

Yet and still, there continues to be a pervasive belief that it’s illegal to capture wild dolphins in the U.S. Even though there haven’t been any permits for dolphin captures since 1989, it happens to be legal to capture wild dolphins if you choose to do so.

Prerequisites for Owning a Dolphin

Two dolphins jumping in the ocean

If you wish to own a dolphin, you’ll need to acquire special permits. To procure the licenses, you’d need to be involved in a program affiliated with the government or some sort of educational program. Additionally, you will need to prove that you are using the dolphins for research or education purposes.

Moreover, three prerequisite requirements have to be met before you can obtain a permit. These laws and checks are designed to ensure that dolphins are not kept as individual property.

The first stipulation is that your program must be educational or serve as conservation based on the examples exemplified and used by the public display community; this includes the Aquarium and the American Zoo Association. The Alliance of Marine Parks and Aquariums is included in this as well.

The second stipulation is simple; your facility had to be open and available to the public on a regular basis.

Finally, owners are only authorized to keep marine mammals on public display. This means that individuals can’t have interactive activities such as swimming with the dolphins. This is only permitted if they have authorization from the Animal Welfare Act.

Why Dolphins Make Bad Pets

Group of dolphins swimming in the ocean

There are many reasons to refrain from getting a dolphin as a pet, chief of which being that it’s typically cruel and prevents the animal from growing physically and socially as they usually would in their natural habitats. Here are additional reasons why it is a safety hazard for the dolphin and the person seeking to domesticate it.

#1 Dolphins Can Be Dangerous

Trying to tame an apex predator that roams the seas is a tall task, especially when you consider that they are capable of killing sharks. Dolphins can be very aggressive to people. As you can imagine, this is not a good thing for the person trying to own it as a pet. Even though most dolphins in the USA are bred while in captivity, they are still not considered tamed or domesticated.

Behaviors such as head jerking, biting and breaking bones, pushing people deeper underwater, and other harmful behaviors have been reported from people who have come in direct contact with dolphins. Note that there are more injuries caused by captive-bred dolphins in interactive programs than what actually gets reported.

I don’t want to tell you that dolphins are monsters here. Often they are curious and friendly towards humans. But remember that a happy dolphin in its natural habitat will behave very differently from one that might be depressed and frustrated in a pool or aquarium.

Have in mind that a wild animal that feels threatened or provoked likely will try to defend itself. So it’s up to you to act the right way when you encounter a dolphin in the wild.

Watch the video below and see how a water sportsman plays with a friendly dolphin:

#2 Dolphins eat A LOT

A bottlenose dolphin needs anywhere from 22 lbs to 55 lbs of fish each day to survive in the wild. This would be an enormous task to take on. The typical person would soon run out of money just trying to nourish the animal. Similar to how a seal eats, it would be hard to give dolphins the variety they are accustomed to. They enjoy shrimp, fish, squid, and other aquatic delicacies that individuals simply cannot provide. 

#3 Dolphins do cost a lot

From birth until five years old, a baby dolphin costs anywhere from $50,000-$100,000. An adult dolphin up to thirty years old during the peak years for breeding can be as much as $200,000. Furthermore, marine centers pay an annual premium that costs between four and fifteen percent of the dolphin’s value.

In addition to the cost of the dolphin, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) declares the criteria below for any marine mammals that will be in captivity:

  • An individual or organization must have adequate space for the dolphin (tank)
  • The sanitary conditions and water quality must be sufficient
  • An owner must consider proper handling and transportation 
  • All medical care must be accessible at all times
  • The owner must meet the dolphin’s dietary needs, and the food quality has to be sufficient

It would be nearly impossible for an individual to adequately care for a dolphin, given their size and needs for a suitable quality of life. This list also does not consider any recreational needs that a dolphin has, as even fish can get bored without adequate stimuli. Given the dolphin’s high intelligence and other traits, keeping a dolphin in captivity is inhumane.

#4 Dolphins Get Huge

While many of us have seen dolphins from afar, they are much larger when you’re up close and personal. The size of a dolphin can vary greatly, as there are over 40 species.

You can find dolphins in freshwater and saltwater sources, and in every ocean also. The majority of dolphins are ten feet or less, but you have some that are extremely small, like the Maui dolphin, all the way to the Orca. The most common dolphin that most people know is the bottlenose. It can grow to be 13 ft long and weigh 1,300 lbs. 

Based on the requirements for space set forth by the AWA, an individual can confine a dolphin to a small area 24 feet wide and only six feet deep. Insane! When dealing with an animal as curious and playful as a dolphin, it’s astonishing that the requirement would be so low. 

There Are No Dolphins for Sale

Jumping dolphin in the sunset

Remember, a baby dolphin is not a good pet, despite its fun and friendly appearance at the zoo and water parks like SeaWorld. Improper handling can lead to dangerous encounters and injuries. 

You need so much equipment to merely set up the proper living arrangements for dolphins, well before you think about sustaining it. 

Furthermore, captive breeders are not just selling dolphins to the public, and you cannot capture them from the wild without obtaining the correct permits.