One Dolphin’s Story – Captiva

Quick Facts

Born: 1980 (approximate)
Caught: 1986, Gulf of Mexico
Died: 1989; complications included stomach ulcer, septicemia, possible pancreatitis  

On September 12, 1986, a female dolphin, aged approximately 6 years old, arrived to the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, Florida Keys. She had just been caught in the wild waters of the Gulf of Mexico, destined to become a part of Loro Parque’s animal collection, a zoo in the Canary Islands. DRC was to be her first stop, in order that she be acclimated and trained, prior to the long journey overseas.

Shortly after arriving to the Florida facility, the dolphin, named Captiva for the location of her capture (near Captiva Island, Florida) developed an infection in her right eye, causing her to lose sight. With one eye blind, plans were abandoned and she remained at DRC.

She was a shy dolphin, weighing approximately 300 pounds and seven feet in length. Eighteen months into her captivity, around April Fools’ Day, 1988, she collided into a wall or a dock in her pool, shattering the bones in her lower jaw. She required a surgical procedure that had never been done before. Two veterinarians and one dental surgeon created a brace to hold the bones in her jaw together as they healed, and seven stainless steel screws were drilled and screwed into place during the two-hour procedure. As dolphins are conscious breathers, Captiva could only be given tranquilizers, painkillers and a local anesthetic, and as such, suffered considerable pain.


Four months later, the screws and brace were removed, leaving Captiva with an imperfect – but functional – bite, her jaw shifted slightly to the right.

Captiva, a part of DRC’s swim-with-the-dolphins program, provided guests with flipper shakes and dorsal pulls. She resided with other dolphins in the front pool of the facility.

In October of 1989, she stopped eating. She was given daily injections of antibiotics to fight a bacterial infection and was also supported with fluids. Yet despite DRC’s efforts, Captiva died on October 21, 1989 at approximately 9 years of age.

According to the necropsy report, she suffered from a stomach ulcer, possible pancreatitis and septicemia.

Photo credit: Cara Sands

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About Cara Sands

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It might be true that we don't recall many moments from our early years. However, Cara's first memory of a dolphin had her begging her parents to ask the trainer to let the dolphin go! The problem with captivity was evident to her, even as a 4 year-old child.

A writer by trade, Cara has researched, investigated and documented dolphins suffering in captivity. From documenting dolphins incarcerated in buildings, cut-off from fresh air, sunlight and normal socialization to researching cases of animals imprisoned in solitary confinement, Cara is a dedicated dolphin welfare advocate.

It is her belief that education equals empowerment. The more information shared, the better our choices and knowledge of how to act as a positive and respectful voice for dolphins across the world.

Cara is based out of Canada and makes time whenever possible to observe dolphins in their natural environments. She is writing her first fiction novel but knowing her, the marine world will play a prominent role in her book!

"The use of animals for entertainment is nothing more than an abuse of dominance. Some of the most sentient species on the planet have been exploited to incomprehensible levels, all due to their inherent benevolence. Ironic, considering that we turn to the abused themselves for displays of humanity."
~ Cara Sands

Author: Cara Sands


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