Leilani: Racing for the Dolphins

By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Dolphin Project


I hope you had a chance to tune into the exciting ARCA race on Saturday.  It was 80 laps at Daytona, which doesn’t last very long in cars going 185 miles an hour.

Leilani was representing all of you, our thousands of active volunteers fighting for the dolphins all around the world.  And she was especially grateful to the many donors who helped her set up the Cove car that educated millions of people across America in one short burst.  Many will now know or find out about the plight of the dolphin hunts in Japan and the problems of dolphins in captivity.

Photo courtesy of Louie Psihoyos and Oceanic Preservation Society.

Leilani Münter did an incredible job in her special Cove Car, painted to feature the cause of the dolphins.  She even had an in-car camera, so she, her husband Craig Davidson (known affectionately by all as “Kiwi”), and her racing team (to which she had shown The Cove documentary) pasted Cove stickers in camera range.

Leilani on her car cam, from SPEED Channel coverage.

At one point, she lost her rear tire and pulled out of the race.  A real pro, she brought her car under control, headed into the pits and quickly re-entered the race with a new tire.

While a major set-back for the race, the incident played big on television, with the SPEED channel commentators even talking about The Cove movie and the problem of dolphin captivity as her car was shown spinning out, with the tire flying off, and coming back under her control.  They even recommended people see the movie.

Leilani loses a tire and brings her car under control, from SPEED Channel coverage.

At the race track, I was amazed by seeing some many old friends from our Save Japan Dolphins Campaign.  Carrie Burns, wife of our monitor in Taiji right now, Tim Burns, attended, as did Jennifer Knoll and her husband flying all the way from California.  Cove Monitor (with Leilani) Daniella Pletenberg helped arrange my ride to Daytona.  Rachel Larivee flew to Daytona all the way from London, Ontario.  I also managed to run into Becca Jurcsak’s parents at a restaurant in town, as they recognized me, and I recognized their EcoJoia t-shirts.   So many dolphin fans showed up, I can’t even remember all the names.  But we are all one big family now, an extended Dolphin Project Team of volunteers working together in Japan and around the world to help save dolphins.

It was bitter sweet indeed that Leilani did not place near the top in the grueling race.  But it was a tremendous win for the dolphins!  The television exposure to an audience not familiar with the plight of dolphins was priceless.

As Leilani told me, she wanted to get The Cove documentary out in front of mainstream America, and where better than a stock car race?

She succeeded admirably!

While with her after the race. I presented Leilani with a plaque:


Ric O’Barry and your Dolphin Project team, honor you, Leilani, for your outstanding efforts to protect dolphins around the world.

You have braved angry fishermen and roaring racing cars, lit up the Empire State Building in red, and proven yourself a steadfast, feisty and wonderful companion in our Campaign to Save Japan Dolphins.

The dolphins are safer because of your stellar efforts.

We thank you, Leilani, with all our hearts.


Ric O’Barry gives Leilani Munter a special award from Dolphin Project onVimeo.  Courtesy of Louie Psihoyos and Oceanic Preservation Society.


Leilani was moved to tears, and thanked everyone who had helped her get to Daytona and on the track.

A great time was had by all, as everyone shouted and roared every time Leilani’s car appeared on the television.

Leilani celebrated her 36th birthday at Daytona for the dolphins.  And she came in 36th in the race.  Coincidence?

And some more good news:  Tim Burns, our volunteer Cove Monitor in Taiji, reports no dolphins killed over the past few days.  The dolphin hunters take Saturdays off; today (Sunday), they went out and came back in, and no dolphins to be seen.  I think some of Leilani’s magic generated in Daytona may be helping in Taiji.


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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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