Dolphin Sabbatical Project: A Social Experiment for Captive Dolphins

Which environment is better for dolphins? We are calling on the Dutch public to decide.” ~ Ric O’Barry, Founder/Director of Dolphin Project

Dolphin Project is formally inviting Harderwijk Dolphinarium to join us on common ground and participate in a project that will determine if captive dolphins are happier in a dolphin sanctuary, versus a dolphinarium.

During a productive debate on RTL Late Night, a live national television broadcast in Holland, Harderwijk veterinarian Dr. Niels van Elk claimed the dolphins are “happy” at the dolphinarium.

Ric O’Barry and the Dolphin Project disagree. We think the dolphins would be happier and healthier in a more natural environment, like a coastal sanctuary built specifically for dolphins.

We are proposing a sabbatical for three of the dolphins now being held at the dolphinarium. If the decision makers agree, Harderwijk and Dolphin Project will work together to transfer the mammals from Harderwijk to a newly-created dolphin sanctuary, where they will remain for two years. Trainers that have previously worked with the animals at the dolphinarium are welcome to join the dolphins and remain with them for the duration of the experiment.

The parameters of the two-year dolphin sabbatical are as follows:

  • No dolphin shows
  • No swim-with-dolphins interactions
  • No artificial insemination and captive breeding

The sanctuary will live stream the dolphins in order that the public can observe their progress, both underwater and topside. A professional team will be assembled to monitor the well-being of the animals, including veterinarians, scientists and other professional staff with marine mammal husbandry experience. A nearby fish farm will supply live, fresh fish to meet the dolphins’ nutritional needs, replacing the dead, frozen fish they are currently consuming.

At the end of two years, the Dutch people will be asked to vote on which facility they think is ultimately best for the dolphins. We feel that the people should have the final say.

During these two years, the various groups, individuals and organizations that regularly protest the front gate of Harderwijk will also take a sabbatical. They, along with Harderwijk staff, are welcome to visit the sanctuary, with the project acting as a common ground uniting Harderwijk, the scientific community and the demonstrators.

If this initial proposal is acceptable, we will develop a Memorandum of Understanding and a more detailed plan of action between the Dolphin Project and Harderwijk.

Ric's Signature_Blk




Richard O’Barry
Founder/Director, Dolphin Project

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About Ric O'Barry

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Ric O’Barry, Dolphin Project Founder & Director has worked on both sides of the captive dolphin issue, making him an invaluable asset in the efforts to end exploitation. He worked for 10 years within the dolphin captivity industry, and has spent the past 40 working against it.

In the 1960s, O’Barry was employed by the Miami Seaquarium, where he captured and trained dolphins, including the five dolphins who played the role of Flipper in the popular American TV-series of the same name. He also trained Hugo, the first orca kept in captivity east of the Mississippi. When Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper most of the time, died in his arms, O’Barry realized that capturing dolphins and training them to perform silly tricks is simply wrong.

From that moment on, O’Barry knew what he must do with his life. On the first Earth Day, 1970, he launched a searing campaign against the multi-billion dollar dolphin captivity industry and has been going at it ever since.

Over the past 40 years, Ric O’Barry has rescued and rehabilitated dolphins in many countries around the world, including Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Bahamas Islands and the United States. He is a leading voice in the fight to end brutal dolphin hunts in Japan, the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, and wherever else they occur.

O’Barry has been recognized by many national and international entities for his dedicated efforts, such as being voted Huffington Post’s 2010 Most Influential Green Game Changer, and being listed on O Magazine’s 2010 Power List – Men We Admire for his “Power of Passion.” O’Barry received an Environmental Achievement Award, presented by the United States Committee for the United Nations Environmental Program. He has done countless interviews with such prestigious news programs as Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360, the Mike Huckabee Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

His book Behind the Dolphin Smile was published in 1989; a second book, To Free A Dolphin was published in September 2000. Both of them are about his work and dedication. He is the star of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove and the Animal Planet television series Blood Dolphin$.

Author: Ric O'Barry


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