Should Dolphins Be Living In The Desert?

As an animal advocate, my only concern is for the proper treatment, care, and well-being of all animals. When I heard that Dolphinaris Arizona would be caring for 8 bottlenose dolphins in the middle of the desert, I was concerned.

  • How will dolphins handle the extreme Arizona heat?
  • How will proper water quality be maintained?
  • The dolphins and trainers will be doing daily interactions with guests. How will these interactions be properly managed?

I asked Dolphinaris Arizona to give me a behind-the-scenes look and full access to their facility. They agreed. Here is what I found:

Dolphinaris Arizona Video Summary

The water temperature is regulated so that it never exceeds 77 degrees. Wild bottlenose dolphins are found in temperate and tropical waters where the water temperature can range from 50 – 90 degrees. There is actually a lot of great research being done by trainers from the International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA) that indicates higher water temperatures are actually better for the dolphins’ overall health.

The facility is designed so that the dolphins have plenty of shaded options as well as an indoor area that provides protection from dust storms and other inclement weather.

Dolphinaris AZ

Dolphinaris Arizona contains 990,000 gallons of salt water with both indoor and outdoor areas, offering plenty of options for shade.

One of Dolphinaris’ key focuses is conservation and education. Let’s be very clear here, however. Dolphinaris Arizona is a for-profit company. I will discuss my thoughts on that toward the end of this article.

The dolphins are prepared restaurant quality fish and their diets are prepared by the on-site veterinarian and manager of animal health. The dolphins get all of their daily fish regardless of their participation in guest interactions, training sessions, etc. The basis of training is relationship – not food. The dolphins are not forced to do anything.

The dolphins eat:

  • capelin
  • squid
  • herring

Husbandry refers to the health care of the animal. These dolphins are trained to give voluntary blood draws, chuff samples, urine samples, and more.

The dolphins live in multiple pools that hold more than 990,000 gallons of water. The trainers add salt in big bags and stir up the salt underwater while the filtration aids in mixing. Daily water testing is conducted to measure pH, salinity, and other water quality factors.

What Was Not Covered In The Video

Where Did The Dolphins Come From?

The 8 dolphins came from other facilities and were all born under the care of man and came from other dolphin facilities. In fact, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (enacted in 1972) prohibits the taking of marine mammals from the ocean. Most of the animals in zoos and aquariums have been bred or rescued. It’s also important to note that, in most cases, animals who were rescued, rehabilitated, and then deemed unreleasable were deemed so by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – not the facility who rescued the animals. This sort of check and balance ensures fair treatment for the animals.

Personally, I don’t believe any healthy animal should have ever been taken from the wild. However, the reality is that we have thousands of animals under the care of the man and moving them to a sea pen would not be best for their well-being. It is our responsibility to care for these animals the best way possible.

How Do They Train The Dolphins?

I was extremely impressed with the Dolphinaris Arizona training staff. The staff only uses positive reinforcement training techniques and use a variety of positive reinforcer to condition desirable behavior.

I was able to observe a few training sessions and it was such a relief to see wonderful training take place. The dolphins were very engaged with their trainers and the variability of reinforcement kept the sessions novel and exciting.

How Many Interactions Occur Daily?

At the time of filming, Dolphinaris Arizona was holding only two dolphin interactions per day. I was so thrilled to hear this! While swimming with dolphins can, and should, be reinforcing for the dolphins, often corporate greed can outweigh animal welfare. This is why I have advocated for an animal trainers union, not to ensure the well-being of the trainers, rather to ensure that the animals’ welfare remains a priority.

dolphinaris arizona swim with dolphins

When done correctly, dolphin interactions can be reinforcing for guests and the dolphins.

Only doing two interactions a day allows the trainers add more training, playtimes, exercise, and husbandry sessions. This gives the dolphins a more well-rounded day and allows the trainers and dolphins plenty of time to learn the exciting world of guest interactions. While the number of interactions will increase (and they should – again, interactions are reinforcing for the dolphins), this tells me that Dolphinaris Arizona is putting the dolphins first.

Yes, Dolphinaris is Making Money

As I mentioned earlier, Dolphinaris is a for-profit company. This is a good thing. I think people who care for animals should be rewarded. Additionally, much of this money goes back into education and conservation work, and hopefully soon… rescue work.

Facilities like SeaWorld are the only ones able to rescue, rehabilitate, and release large amounts of animals each year because they have the equipment, staff, and perhaps most importantly, the money to do so. Where does that money come from? People who buy tickets.

It is my hope that Dolphinaris continues to put money back into education and conservation efforts but also starts to invest in rescue work for animals and wildlife local to the Arizona desert. They have to be financially successful in order for this to happen.

Is Dolphinaris Arizona Accredited?

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredits American facilities who meet and exceed the minimum requirements of animal care.

“Accreditation is a process by which a program, organization, or institution is evaluated by recognized experts in the profession, and is measured against the established standards and best practices of that profession. Overseeing this process in AZA is the Accreditation Commission- a group of sixteen experienced and trained experts in operations, animal welfare and husbandry, and veterinary medicine. These experts are sworn to maintain complete impartiality in their judgements and to thoroughly examine each zoo or aquarium that applies for AZA accreditation to determine if AZA standards are being met. Only those zoos and aquariums that earn AZA accreditation can become members of AZA.”  –

Dolphinaris Arizona is not accredited by the AZA because Dolphinaris is a foreign company.

Dolphinaris Arizona is accredited by the European Association for Aquatic Mammals and the Mexican Association of Habitats for Interaction and Protection of Marine Mammals.

Final Thoughts

It’s very clear that the dolphins at Dolphinaris Arizona are in good hands and are finding their new lives reinforcing. I applaud the Dolphinaris staff on taking incredible care of these majestic creatures and am hopeful that corporate Dolphinaris will continue putting the health and well-being of their dolphins and staff before anything else.