It is difficult to know the exact extent to which wild dolphins and captive dolphins differ. It is extremely hard to study wild dolphins and where research can be carried out it is incredibly expensive to fund. It has been recorded that wild dolphins swim up to 40 miles a day. They move constantly on the hunt for food, playing and fighting in their pods along the way.
The sheer distance that wild dolphins cover each day would mean that scientists studying a particular pod will have a hard time keeping track of their movements. Dolphins living in captivity clearly don’t have access to the same amount of space in which to move, and this is one of the main campaign strategies which has been used to promote the release of dolphins from captivity.
It is very difficult to capture wild dolphins to conduct studies on them. It is also very harmful to the dolphins in question and extremely stressful for them. A recent study has shown that over half of wild dolphins which survive capture will die from shock in the first three months of their captivity.
Wild dolphins tend to live roughly the same length of time as those living in captivity. Despite having no access to veterinary medicine and no protection from predators, wild dolphins seem to live happier and healthier lives than captured dolphins.
Wild dolphins form strong bonds and relationships with particular members of their pod. These bonds have been likened to human friendships, but are not so noticeable in the behavior of dolphins in captivity. Wild dolphins have also been spotted helping members of their own pod who are in trouble, but their kindness is not just limited to their own species. Stories of dolphins helping out humans in need are relatively common and documentary camera footage has witnessed dolphins helping out entirely different species who have been in trouble.
Dolphins in the wild are able to produce a calf every 2 – 3 years, whereas it is extremely difficult to breed dolphins in captivity. Very few of the dolphins which are currently held in zoos and theme parks were actually born in captivity as dolphins do not respond well to the artificial environment. The lack of natural breeding grounds and the fact that dolphins cannot choose their mate are two of the reasons which are commonly cited to explain why captured dolphins are unable to reproduce at the same rate as wild dolphins.