Dolphin advocates say the first thing people have to recognize is that dolphins are extremely intelligent and social creatures. Some go as far as saying they deserve the same rights as humans because they're that intelligent. Researchers have found dolphins have similar brain structures as humans and, in some cases, are even more complex. Dolphins use their highly-developed brain to form complex cultures in the open ocean. Culture is no exaggeration—researchers have found cases where groups of dolphins teach learned behavior from one generation to the next.
TL;DR: Dolphins are not your average animal and should not be treated like one. There's a huge difference between keeping a lion in captivity and keeping dolphins in captivity, simply because how intelligent dolphins are.
It’s time we recognize that the only, true reason we still keep these magnificent, large brained and socially complex creatures captive is for our entertainment; entertainment for the motive of making money, and lots of it.
Dolphins are who, not what, and they deserve some rights. We humans should use our judgment and compassion toward these (and other) fellow animals and stop keeping them caged as our prisoners.
Others argue it's necessary to keep dolphins in captivity for research purposes. There are certain kinds of research that cannot be done in the wild. Andrew Trites, a researcher at the Vancouver Aquarium, points to three specific areas of research that can only be done with captive dolphins. Holding these animals in captivity allows researchers to do their work in a controlled environment.
Measure an animal's metabolic rate to find out how much food it needs.
Develop ways to reconstruct what wild whales and dolphins are eating from their fecal samples.
Develop technologies such as tracking technologies to study wild whales and dolphins.
Keeping dolphins in aquariums and zoos serves to educate the public about marine conservation. Not everyone can afford to see these animals in the wild. Captive dolphins help educate and inspire people to back conservation efforts. Dolphins at aquariums and zoos attract a huge audience and bring in a lot of money. That money is then spent on conservation and research efforts.
We have to continue to communicate with the over 90 percent of the American public that feels that what zoos and aquariums are doing is the right thing. Over 90 percent of the American public feels that zoos and aquariums are essential to education, are important to learning about animals. Over 90 percent of the public feels that opportunities for children to see wild animals are almost entirely dependent upon zoos and aquariums. So those are the people we have to talk to, there are gonna be always dissenters, and I recognize the value of dissent, but we can't cater to those needs, we have to look at the vast majority of people that want and enjoy what we do and see value in it. So that's where our focus has to be.