I don’t live on the beach, so I am often drawn to beach destinations as hot spots for adventures in which you can swim with wildlife like dolphins or stingrays. The problem with many of these programs, however, is that the animals are held in tanks or captive enclosures so they are available to swim with you. This is a horrible existence for animals accustomed to living in the wild and swimming hundreds of miles daily.

Programs do exist where the animals live in the wild and are enticed to come close to shore with food, but feeding wildlife can create other issues. However, if given a choice, I am thankful for programs that allow the animals to live free.

To identify a program in which the animals live in the wild, start by reading the tour program’s web site. It is often obvious in pictures of the facility and programs in action whether the animals are free to come and go, or are living in captivity.

For example, I recently participated in a Swim with Stingrays program in Grand Cayman. The description talked about how the boat would take us out in the ocean to a sandbar where boats anchor and the stingrays come. This gave me confidence that these animals were free to come and go. If you can’t tell from the site, email them and ask if the animals are kept in captivity, or free to return to the ocean at any time.

Here is an example of the types of program you want to AVOID: Dolphin Cove in Jamaica.

You can see from the pictures that there are pins, and they describe that you will swim with a certain number of dolphins. These are sure signs the animals are being held for the program, and not allowed to swim freely in their natural habitat.

Here is an example of a better program: Grand Cayman Stingray Experience.

I hate to miss an opportunity to interact with animals, but by participating in these harmful programs, I would be funding animal cruelty. I hope you always take the time to find programs which allow these animals free reign over their natural territory.