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Life Expectancy of Dolphins

Life Expectancy of a Dolphin in Alliance North American Member Facilities

And a Comparison to Life Expectancy in the Wild

 Current scientific data show that the average lifespan of bottlenose dolphins in Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (Alliance) member facilities is longer than their counterparts in the wild. Calves born in Alliance member zoological parks and aquariums have higher rates of survivability than those born in the wild. (See references below.)

  • On average, a one-year old bottlenose dolphin in Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums member facilities is expected to live for more than 25 years (Willis 2007, unpublished data).
  • The median life expectancy of a one-year-old bottlenose dolphin in Alliance member facilities is 24.3 years.
  • Research based on tooth extraction from 290 stranded dolphins, in cooperation with the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, produced data that show the average life expectancy from birth of animals off the coast of Texas is 11.73 years, and the average life expectancy from one year of age is 12.72. These numbers are also consistent with the results of other tooth-aging studies of stranded animals (Neuenhoff, 2009; Mattson et al., 2006; Stolen and Barlow, 2003; Hohn, 1980). 

(Information provided by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.)


  • Willlis, K. 2007. “Life Expectancy of Bottlenose Dolphins in Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums’ North American Member Facilities: 1990 – Present,” Presented at the 2007 meeting of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.
  • Neuenhoff, R.D. 2009. Age, Growth and Population Dynamics of Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Along Coastal Texas. MS Thesis. Texas A&M University, College Station, TX. 108 pages.
  • Megan Cope Mattson, M.C., Mullin, K.D., Ingram, G.W., Hoggard, W.  (2006) Age Structure and Growth of the Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops Truncatus) from Strandings in the Mississippi Sound Region of the North-Central Gulf of Mexico from 1986 to 2003. Marine Mammal Science 22:3, 654–666 
  • Stolen, M.K. and J. Barlow. 2003. A Model Life Table for Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from the Indian River Lagoon System, Florida, U.S.A. Marine Mammal Science 19(4): 630-649.
  • Hohn, A.A. 1980. Age Determination and Age Related Factors in the Teeth of Western North Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins. Scientific Reports of the Whales Research Institute 32: 39-66.

Our Position on Drive Fisheries / Whale and Dolphin Hunts

Dolphin Research Center's Position on Taiji, Japan, Faroe Islands, and Dolphin Drive Fisheries

Dolphin Research Center and all of the more than 60 members of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (the Alliance) condemn the mass killings of dolphins in the Japanese drive fisheries and the annual hunts in the Faroe Islands, a territory of Denmark.  For many years, we have educated visitors from around the world about these hunts, calling on the Japanese and the Faroe Islands populations to end these practices.

DRC does not support these killings in either location in any way. We do not have or take animals from these horrible hunts, nor have we ever.

No dolphins have been captured from the wild to live at United States parks since the late 1980s.

Those who oppose the idea of marine mammals living in parks and aquariums often deliberately spread false information to convince the public that marine mammal facilities are responsible for the drive fisheries continuing each year.  This is not true.  Comments made by the extremists and those made in movies such as The Cove make it seem that dolphins captured in the Japan drive fisheries are sold to facilities in this country.  That is also not true.  

Continuing to mislead the public undermines these peoples’ credibility and does nothing to further the purpose of ending the dolphin and whale killings in Taiji or the Faroe Islands.

You can help by sharing the messages that you see us post on Facebook or Twitter, and adding your voice.  You can also contact the Japanese authorities.  To send an email to the Japanese ambassador to the United States, write to: jicc@ws.mofa.go.jp.  

To send a comment to the Japanese Prime Minister, please click here.


About Blackfish

About Blackfish

Dolphin Research Center and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums (Alliance) strongly disagree with the biased presentation and false allegations made in Blackfish: The Movie and affirm our support for our members’ animal programs and their highly trained, animal care professionals.  We know from the more than 40 million guests who visit Alliance-accredited facilities annually that personally seeing and experiencing live whales, dolphins and other marine mammals is a powerful experience that can move people to support wildlife conservation.  The film is incorrect in claiming that marine mammals do not thrive in our parks and wrongly challenges the public’s right to experience killer whales in our facilities.

The film also deliberately fails to acknowledge the essential role killer whales and other marine mammals play in the education, conservation and research missions of accredited zoological facilities that directly benefit animals in the wild. For more than 40 years, the importance of providing the public a chance to see marine mammals in approved facilities has been clearly and strongly supported by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. The MMPA acknowledges and provides for the educational and conservation benefits of people having the opportunity to experience whales and dolphins in parks, aquariums and zoos. 

The American public also strongly supports accredited zoos and aquariums and clearly understands that if it were not for these facilities, children as well as adults would have no viable way to see, experience and learn to care about marine mammals.  A 2012 Harris poll conducted by Harris Interactive® for the Alliance confirmed that the vast majority (97%) of the American public believes that seeing and experiencing live marine mammals is the best way for children to not only learn about the animals but to inspire conservation action that can help marine mammals and their ocean environments. 

SeaWorld Professionals/Contributions

Blackfish also fails to acknowledge SeaWorld’s contribution to the conservation of marine mammals worldwide.  SeaWorld is a leader in marine mammal research and education. SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund grants enable research important to animals and the environment.  SeaWorld’s impressive and varied education programs successfully motivate the public to become better stewards of our environment. 

Like all U.S. facilities caring for marine mammals, SeaWorld is licensed to do so by the U.S. federal government and regularly inspected.  It adheres to the strict standards of all federal and state laws, including the Animal Welfare Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as Alliance Standards and Guidelines, which surpass government standards for the care of the animals.

(Information provided by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.)

SeaWorld and the Truth About Blackfish

SeaWorld has been forced to defend itself against the dramatic, often false and misleading information presented in this film.  The company refutes the inaccuracies and other misinformation on this website The Truth About Blackfish.  Please click here to visit the site and read more about this topic, including a pointed analysis of the film with documentation provided that supports SeaWorld's stand.  

Third Party Opinions About Blackfish

In addition to the information directly from SeaWorld, there are other, third-party, sources who have analyzed the film's approach and content.  You may also be interested in reading what Cinemaspin wrote here.  An independent videographer presents his detailed analysis here.  SeaWorld also shares links to opinions from a variety of other sources here.

About Molly

Molly's Receiving Treatment - But Dolphin Research Center is Under Attack!

A short time ago, Molly, who is the oldest dolphin in the DRC family wasn’t acting like her usual self.  This episode was nothing unfamiliar or unexpected.  Molly’s age is estimated at anywhere from 48 to 53.  In dolphin years, she is old – having already lived twice the average life expectancy for her species.  Geriatric animals of all species – dolphins, dogs, humans, etc. – are known to develop health conditions.  We immediately addressed the situation by providing our customary superior medical care, running diagnostic tests and doing whatever necessary to help her feel better.  We’re happy to report that her condition is improving.  Our dear friend is bright-eyed, alert and responsive.  She greets us eagerly, ready for her meals, and enthusiastically participates in her daily voluntary water supplements and physical exams.  We know that all of you share our happiness in the current condition of this grand old lady.

We’ve been through similar situations with Molly before, as we experienced in previous years with other senior citizens in the family.  We monitor her on a daily basis.  As she advances in her senior years and we continue to provide her with excellent care, we hope that she will enjoy a good quality of life for as long as possible.

You might be wondering why we’ve taken the time today to give you an update on the incomparable Molly.  Well, while her health issues are not unusual, something strange and different happened that had nothing to do with her actual condition.  Anti-captivity extremists latched onto her temporary illness and overdramatized it.  You might not have read or seen anything negative yet, but an article ran in the Miami Herald on November 12th.  (Click here to read the article.)  We know how much you love Molly and DRC and we don’t want you to be unnecessarily alarmed or upset. 

The recent shenanigans have really been something.  People have shown up to harass DRC staff for private details about Molly’s condition.  They’ve taken advantage of our openness and done their best to be intrusive, filming and photographing medical assists and other activities.  In addition to the media, they’ve contacted other marine mammal scientists, colleagues outside of DRC and even former employees, digging for dirt.  Through it all, their goal is to portray Dolphin Research Center in the worst possible light.  Every photo and video, everything we do or say – even this statement –receives their customary misleading interpretations.  That’s their modus operandi: Ignore the truth and twist the facts to fit their agenda.  It’s what they do.

They have even gone so far as to file a formal complaint against us with the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the government agency that oversees and inspects marine mammal facilities.  APHIS has found no fault with our care of Molly or any other animal that lives here.

The Miami Herald article mentions that formal complaint and says that DRC had no comment.  In the interview with our Director of Media, the reporter never mentioned the formal complaint and we were not yet aware that one had been filed.  Had she asked us about it, we would have answered – and the answer would definitely not have been, “no comment”.

None of the critics come anywhere close to our level of expertise.  Some of our detractors have never taken care of a marine mammal; some haven’t been hands-on in many, many years.  Yet they act and talk like they know better.  Our team is experienced in animal care, including hands-on assistance.  We are the experts who have developed techniques, accumulated knowledge, and actively worked in this field for decades and always make the best decisions possible for the animals.

The fact that Molly has survived to such a grand age is directly attributable to the wonderful quality of life that she has enjoyed since moving to DRC more than 18 years ago.  Before that, she was at Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary in the custody of a well-known activist.  After that man and his cohort illegally released two other dolphins off of Key West – an incident which led to at least one of those dolphins, named Buck, nearly starving to death before we found and rescued him – the government confiscated Molly and asked Dolphin Research Center to be her new home.  She is the only dolphin ever seized by the U.S. Government for violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  This act has strict guidelines for the care of marine mammals.  Those guidelines were violated.

It’s ironic that the activist permitted her to become dangerously obese.  Molly was in horrible shape when she arrived, but we brought her back to good health and fitness.  She has thrived in our family since that time.

Those who oppose dolphins living in facilities don’t want to recognize the excellent care that we and other accredited places provide to our marine mammal families.  They don’t want to acknowledge one bit of the excellent work that we do.  While we spend our time actually taking care of Molly and all of the dolphins and sea lions in the DRC family, anti-captivity activists spend their days attacking us and would love nothing more than to ultimately shut us down.

While they sit at their computers or on their phones and spew their twisted words, top notch facilities, including Dolphin Research Center, are devoting exemplary care to the well-being of marine mammals.

Every single day, we see to their needs.  We explore their cognitive abilities and behavior to increase the world’s knowledge and further fascinate people.  We teach people about them, emphasizing the importance of protecting them and the environment.  When marine mammals in the wild are in trouble, we supply the team power and resources to try to rescue these imperiled animals.

When all is said and done, we are the true animal activists for marine mammals everywhere.  We will continue to care and advocate for them no matter how hard our opponents try to make us stop.

We are able to do this because of your enduring support.  We wish we could say that the activists will cease their unconscionable behavior, but we know that they will, no doubt, escalate their scurrilous attempts to discredit us and our colleagues.  We ask that when you see any negative stories you speak up for DRC.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.

On behalf of Molly and the entire family, thank you for believing in Dolphin Research Center.

Benefits of Research in Human Care

The Benefits of Marine Mammal Cognition Studies in Human Care

There are activists in this world who have long opposed the keeping of marine mammals in human care. Recently, some of them have begun to argue that because dolphins and other toothed whales (e.g., orcas & belugas) are intelligent, they should be treated as "non-human persons" and not kept in captivity. 

To be sure, the issue of how humans treat other animals is important. It's something that should be talked about. In fact, it's an issue that marine mammal facilities think about and talk about all the time. To take just one example, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (to which Dolphin Research Center belongs) holds its members to extremely high standards for animal care, housing, and training – standards that exceed legal requirements and guidelines, and which are continuously updated to reflect current scientific knowledge and best professional practices.

However, the argument that "intelligent dolphins = non-human persons," as well as the response to it, are both flawed.

Why the non-human persons argument is flawed:

  •  First, the issue of measuring animal "intelligence" is actually tricky, and widely misunderstood. Different animals have evolved in different environments, and their brains have evolved to solve different kinds of problems. So it's almost impossible to compare overall intelligence across animal species in any meaningful way. Instead, we have to look at more specific skills and capacities -- like number concepts, imitation, memory, etc. -- which can be compared across animals.
  • Yes, there are some areas in which dolphins and humans have cognitive similarities, and those are interesting. However, these similarities do not make dolphins some type of sea-human, any more than they make people land-dolphins. There are also areas where humans and dolphins have profound cognitive differences. Actually, we are still in the early stages of learning how dolphins think. So the temptation to claim that dolphins are "just like us" is more a reflection of our thought processes than of theirs.
  • The more we learn about animal cognition, the more we realize that many animals have "complex" thought processes. For example, research has recently shown that on some social cognition tests, dogs outperform even chimpanzees. (Does this mean that everyone should therefore release their dogs into the wild?) DRC believes that cognition studies lead to greater appreciation for many animal species. To try to focus this issue narrowly on marine mammals is a biased misrepresentation of the science.

Why we need dolphins in human care:

  • It is essential that we as a society provide the public with direct, up close and personal experiences with animals. The biggest threat to wild animals is people. We know that direct experience with animals inspires people to connect with and care about them, and to conserve the environment in which they live. The number of marine mammals that live in human care is a tiny percentage of the population that lives out in the wild. However, the impact of these “ambassadors” is huge.
  • Fifty years ago, it was still common practice to hunt and kill dolphins and other marine mammals in the wild. Marine mammal facilities that provided the public up close experiences and that conducted cognitive and behavioral studies directly and strongly influenced public opinion, which inspired people to make a difference. This work must continue and must be talked about in order to continue to inspire people now and into the future.

Why we should do cognitive research with dolphins in human care:

  •  Any behavioral study of dolphins, whether in human care or in the wild, is informed by what we know about their cognitive capacities. The types of cognitive studies that give us this information cannot be done in the wild. You can observe behavior in the wild, which can be great for generating hypotheses. To actually test these hypotheses, however, you need to be able to present animals with specific situations, up close and personal, with all the necessary controls, consistency, and repetition that are simply impossible to achieve in a wild setting.
  • Cognition studies with dolphins are relevant to our scientific knowledge of all species, including humans. Dolphins have evolved along a completely different path from humans and other primates for 90 to 95 million years – in a different environment, with a different body plan and different neuroanatomy. So when research reveals a particular ability in dolphins, and we compare that to what people and other animals can do, we learn about the ways in which intelligent behaviors evolve in general. If you stop this type of research with marine mammals, you leave gaping holes in the overall knowledge of animal cognition and its evolution across all species, including humans.
  • Cognitive studies inspire conservation. It is human nature to care more about animals with which we connect. Some guests may be inspired by dolphins' beauty; others by their athleticism; still others by watching them think and puzzle things out. This connection inspires more care and compassion for dolphins and the environment in which they live.
  • Dolphins require mental stimulation, which cognitive research provides. In fact, what we call "cognitive research", the animals experience as "thinking games". These types of cognitive challenges are inherently enriching, and enhance the well-being of the animals (Clark, 2013).

 It is imperative that we stay true to our mission for the most important reason – the ultimate benefit of the animals in our facilities and their wild counterparts.


Clark, F. E. (2013). Marine mammal cognition and captive care: A proposal for cognitive enrichment in zoos and aquariums. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research, 1, 1-6.

Battling Marine Debris

Fight Ocean Pollution – Become the Solution

Join Our World Oceans Month and create a #DebrisFreeSea!



We need your help!

The extreme threat of marine debris with its devastating effects on marine life has been recognized by governments and environmental organizations around the world. 

Join members of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) and the European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM) in the social media campaign to raise awareness of marine debris and motivate people around the world to clean up and prevent more trash from entering our world’s oceans.

What Can You Do?

  • ·         Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  • ·         Cut the loop of rubber bands and six pack rings before disposing of them
  • ·         Organize or join clean-up activities in your area
  • ·         Post, tweet, and share daily messages about marine debris, conservation, marine life and your efforts to help using the hashtag #DebrisFreeSea.  Let’s go viral and spread the messages around the world!

Be Part of the Global Effort

Download the free Marine Debris Tracker app for your smartphone or tablet and join a team.

·         In the U.S. and Outside of Europe: Log in to the app as Team Alliance (password: dolphin)

·         In Europe: Log in to the app as Team EAAM (password: monkseal)


To connect with daily posts and messages during the social media campaign, like DRC on Facebook.  Follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Working Together, We Can Create a #DebrisFreeSea




When "Scientific Objectivity" Isn't

When Scientific Objectivity Isn't

In May 2014, National Geographic News profiled Dr. Lori Marino as part of their online series The Innovators Project.  Over the last several years, Dr. Marino has increasingly used her standing as a scientist to advocate for the release of cetaceans from marine mammal parks and aquariums.  However, Dolphin Research Center feels it’s important to note when anybody -- especially someone fashioning herself as a “scientist-advocate” -- puts forth claims that are not based on true scientific objectivity and data.  DRC's Director of Research, Dr. Kelly Jaakkola, wrote a letter to National Geographic on behalf of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums stating our deep concerns about the way that Dr. Marino uses her academic degree and reputation in her effort to influence public opinion on this issue.  Unfortunately, National Geographic does not include a Letters to the Editor feature in their online site. Therefore, we have chosen to post the letter here.  (National Geographic's original profile can be found here.)


Jaakkola letter



Our Mission - Through education, research and rescue, Dolphin Research Center promotes peaceful coexistence, cooperation and communication between marine mammals, humans and the environment we share with the well being of DRC's animals taking precedence.
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