Desert Dolphins

I recently went on a trip to Las Vegas with my husband. As I am a terrible gambler, I had to find things to do that didn’t cost much money, and if I could practice taking pictures, even better! When I was in Vegas “a little while ago” after turning 21, my friend and I did a sort of animal tour of the strip so I thought I could revisit some of those spots this time.

First up, MGM Grand for the Lion exhibit. It was indoors from what I remembered, which was a bonus in the 106 heat of summer. I uber’d over just to find that the exhibit was closed in 2012. I felt a little annoyed at my useless trip to the casino, but was then relieved on behalf of the lions. Perhaps they ended up in a place more suited for their species? Maybe they were sent to a grand enclosure where shade, food, and entertainment were plentiful..?

I also did the Shark Encounter at Mandalay Bay. These guys were housed in a nationally recognized aquarium inside an air conditioned building. Not too shabby.

We concluded our animal tours with Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden at The Mirage. I was sort of remembering the dolphins being outside, and was desperately hoping the tigers were inside. Did I mention it was 106? Do you know what 106 in the desert feels like? Open your oven while you’re waiting for your pizza to go in. That’s what it felt like. Parched, dry, sort of like you’re a piece of meat walking around a spit being slowly cooked. If you found shade, it was crowded with other sweaty meat bodies and never lasted very long.

So my husband and I walk out to the courtyard of dolphin pools. The first reaction when someone sees a dolphin is always “aawwwww”. How could you not? Those permasmiles, that inviting playfulness, those happy fins.



But quickly I began to wonder, “Where’s their shade?” This is the desert, for crapsakes. It was 106 that day, but the following weekend the temps were expected to hit 113!

The crowd was certainly making sure they were covered. The amphitheater seating was  covered and there were a few umbrellas set up around the pools to shade you if you wanted to get closer to the animals. I was among a throng of onlookers that was crowded under the umbrella. Any skin that snuck outside the shade was instantly singed.

There were three pools total, I believe. Only one had something resembling a false coral reef, the others were bare pools. Totally empty! Not to mention zero shade. Zero. I’m no marine biologist, but I know a little something about the ocean. There are different layers, and marine mammals are equipped with genetic diving gear. If they want to avoid UV rays and intense sunshine, they can dive to get away from it. In these pools, there was nothing.

In one area there’s a huge diameter pool with more than a handful of dolphins. I’m sad to say I did not get a picture of this pool myself. Frankly, there was nowhere to stop in the shade to take a picture! A quick search online provided this one:

What’s interesting to me is that they call this a “habitat”. According to the definition of a habitat is this:
the natural environment of an organism; place that is natural for the life and growth
of an organism

I don’t know about you but I can’t remember the last time I saw a dolphin swimming in a natural habitat that consisted of a shallow pool with zero ecosystem surrounding it. Not to mention living in the shallows 100% of the time all day, all year, all life long. I heard one of the trainers explaining to the crowd that they don’t give them commands, per say. They simply toot their whistle which gives the dolphins “freedom to choose” a behavior. They do whatever behavior they want, and then get their reward.

My takeaway from that is that the dolphin is still expected to do something to spark a “Oooh!” and/or “Wow!” to get fed. They are smart animals. That is why they are contained and imprisoned, actually, so they can prove their intelligence over and over and over for our enjoyment at the expense of their entire natural lives. If only they could be allowed to thrive in a natural environment, imagine the quality of entertainment – if that’s the goal – or research or study. Whatever label the check-signers need to put on it, just make it a humane and understandable life. Give the equivalent to yourself or your own family. Would you be happy to live in a square cube devoid of any stimulation except what is given at the time you are expected to perform a trick for someone else?

Looking back on the pictures a thought occurred to me; what if we could tear our eyes away from the charming “smiling” mouths that constantly reassure us they are, in fact, smiling and focus on their eyes. We like to think because their face happens to be formed in a natural smile that whatever situation they are in must mean they are happy, right?! Do you know anyone who is depressed? Do they walk around with a cloud over their head popping pills so everyone knows the state of their mind? Likely not. These animals have a face that lends itself to always looking playful and happy. It does not mean they are. I showed a few pics to my 5 year old just now. I said nothing about it, but asked her “Do they look happy to you?” Her response: “Kinda … ” I asked her why, “because their eyes are kinda like *this*.” She made a pitiful look that affected her whole face to manipulate her eyes to look sad… because that’s how human faces work.

So now look at these dolphins and try and take into account what their very intelligent eyes are showing. I wonder what you will feel?


With all the hooplah surrounding Sea World and Blackfish (which I saw and also wrote a post about) I am really surprised to find that there seems to be one Facebook page
and one petition which actually has some sad and interesting information

I am not proud that I gave money seemingly supporting The Mirage and their exhibit, but on the other hand, I’m glad to know this exists and needs to be understood so it can be changed. The site makes some glaringly obvious points that I wont parrot here, but really, do dolphins belong in the desert? At that, do they belong in a desert at the heart of a filthy, bustling, city surrounded by highways, pollution, and skin-searing heat?  

7 thoughts on “Desert Dolphins

  1. As a Southern Nevada resident who has stood on the sidewalks numerous times in protest of the captive dolphins at the Mirage, I thank you wholeheartedly for writing this article.


  2. Thank You !
    Exposure of the reality is what’s key to opening up people’s eyes and relieving the sadness in these dolphins eyes.
    I hope one day to hear these incredible social creatures are moved to a sea pen where they can live a quality life.


  3. You seem to be all hung up on the word “natural” as if it denotes a rainbows and unicorns existence. Wild dolphins are merciless predators. They occupy a niche in the ocean food chain. They devour animals smaller and weaker than they, and are devoured by those that are larger and stronger. That is what the wild life consists of – kill or be killed – eat or be eaten.

    But I guess that’s better than being taken care of because it is “natural”.


    1. Not sure you understood the point at all. I’m sorry if my writing failed to illustrate that I simply wish for the animals taken and expected to entertain for their entire lives should be given the respect of a decent habitat.
      Their diet and what preys upon them is irrelevant considering what they endure at the hands of human enclosures.


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