Don’t Do Dolphin-Assisted Therapy

By Ric O’Barry
Dolphin Project


Dolphin-Assisted Therapy has become a lucrative business over the past few years and presents a serious threat to the welfare of dolphins in that it creates further captures, trade, and captive breeding of dolphins worldwide.  Furthermore, it takes advantage of desperate and vulnerable parents who readily pay large sums of money to give their ill or disabled children what the billion-dollar dolphin captivity industry advertises as a life-enhancing dolphin experience.

Here’s a great article by Dr. Lori Marino in Aeon Magazine that addresses the myth of Dolphin-Assisted Therapy.

There is no scientific evidence to substantiate the claim that spending time in a tank or sea enclosure with dolphins has a healing effect on ill and disabled people. Even if there was, could this really justify the high price that dolphins pay for our desire to be close to them?  When considering whether or not using dolphins to heal people is acceptable, it is important to note the following:

Dolphins are free ranging, social, sonic, and highly intelligent marine mammals. The vastness and biological diversity of the open sea, in which dolphins and other whales have developed over more than 50 million years, cannot be duplicated in a tank or an enclosure in the sea. Consequently, the complexity of dolphins’ behavioral repertoire cannot be accommodated in captivity.  Based on today’s knowledge of cetaceans’ sophisticated physiology and highly developed emotional sense, one must conclude that confining dolphins and other whales to a small space inevitably causes stress in the animals.  This negative effect is reinforced by the fact that dolphins used in swim programs have to be trained by the means of food control to endure the constant pressure of being treated as pets.  If they don’t perform, such as pulling people along through the water or “kissing” people, they don’t eat.

It is hardly surprising that dolphins used in swim programs have demonstrated agitated and aggressive behaviors under the stressful conditions of confinement and forced interactions with people.  These behaviors have resulted in injury to swimmers.  There are accounts of human injuries in the form of lacerations, tooth rakes, internal injuries, broken bones, and shock.  As a matter of fact, the decision to put an end to the television series Flipper was in large part based on the fact that it became too dangerous for the actors to be in the water with the dolphins.  Needless to say, a 3-400 pound frustrated animal can cause serious injury to a human being.

The issue of using dolphins as a tool to obtain a feel-good experience is not one of science, but of ethics: 

It is inherently hypocritical to capture and confine dolphins — thereby destroying the quality of their lives — in an attempt to enhance our own.

Dolphin-Assisted Therapy is bad for dolphins and bad for patients.   It is a scam that brings in huge amounts of money; it is bad for dolphins that are confined to captivity separated from their freedom and their loved ones, and it is bad for patients and their families who are getting soaked in more ways than one.

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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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