The robot dolphins that could transform zoos

Wild ride: A wild dolphin can swim up to 80 miles a day through open ocean. © Alamy

Are robot animals a good idea? A company in the USA has created electronic dolphins that can swim and move like the real thing. Some think they should replace wild creatures in zoos.

What’s happening

The dolphin lifts its head and makes its famous clicking sound. Then, it dives under the water. A woman in a pink swimsuit swims alongside it.

The crowd is delighted. The demonstration has been so good that they forget what is unusual about it: the dolphin is a robot.

Find out more

There are about 3,000 dolphins in captivity worldwide. They are used for entertainment: guests watch them do tricks and can even swim with them.

These shows are supposed to inspire people to learn about dolphins. But often, the tanks in zoos do not have enough space for the animals, and critics argue that making them do tricks is cruel.

A company in California has come up with a solution: an animatronic robot just like a real dolphin.

It is so realistic that when they tested it in a local swimming pool, one onlooker even believed that it was a living, breathing creature.

The creators say the robots could end animal cruelty. They do not get hungry or tired; they could be on show around the clock.

Are they a good idea?

Some say…

They must be! Zoos may be fun, but they are not natural. All animals should be able to live freely in the wild. These realistic robots do not need food and they do not mind being kept in small pools. They are perfect for learning about wild animals without taking them away from where they belong and forcing them to be on display.

Others think…

Not really. We should not want to go to zoos in the first place. It is not right to stare at animals for entertainment. These robots would just encourage us to carry on, rather than breaking the habit. If we want to look at wild animals, there are plenty of beautiful films that show them in their natural habitat where they belong.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather see an animal close up at the zoo or at a distance in its natural habitat?

Activities

  1. Draw a picture of a dolphin. Find out five facts about dolphins and write them under your picture.

Some People Say...

“No aquarium, no tank… however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea.”

Jacques Cousteau, French explorer and conservationist

What do you think?

Word Watch

Clicking
Dolphins are friendly creatures and talk to each other with clicks. People also describe the unusual sound as barks, squeaks and moans.
Demonstration
An activity that shows how something works. This demonstration showed the audience how the robot dolphin could behave like the real thing.
Captivity
When something or someone is kept in one place and cannot leave. Animals in zoos are captive – or in captivity.
Space
In the wild, dolphins can swim up to 80 miles a day. Even in the largest aquariums, they do not have the opportunity to move with nearly as much freedom.
Cruel
Causing pain or suffering. Even though dolphins play together in the wild, animal rights supporters argue that it is unfair to train them to play when we make them do things.
Solution
The answer to a problem. In this case, the makers of the robots say that they can help people learn about dolphins and grow to love them without harming any real animals.
Animatronic
Animatronic is a word made up of two others – animation and electronic. It means a robot that is made to look like a real living thing.
Habitat
The natural home of an animal or plant.

Subjects

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