WHAT'S WRONG WITH USING A DOLPHIN AS AN "ADVANCED BIOLOGICAL WEAPON SYSTEM" -
WHICH IS HOW THEY WERE CLASSIFIED IN NAVY TERMS?
O'BARRY: Well it's abusive. Well-- 'we're only talking about a few dolphins
here. There's millions of them out there.' That's the argument. But what's
wrong with abusing a few women? Hey, there's millions of them out there! It's
the same kind of thinking, same kind of logic. Besides the ethical
considerations, it's a faulty weapons system. It doesn't even work, okay? It
doesn't work. The public is being ripped off. It didn't work in Vietnam. It
didn't work in the Persian Gulf and it didn't work anywhere they tried it.
They're not dependable the dolphins. Once a dolphin has been fed their full
allotment of fish you no longer have control over the dolphin. They know that.
I sometimes suspect that this whole program is a phoney program as a deterrent
to the enemy. We know that the North Vietnamese were living in terror of these
kamikaze dolphins as they were called. We used dolphins to take out North
Vietnamese regulars coming down the Mekong Delta and they died there and we've
used them in the Persian Gulf and these were basically disposable dolphins for
a disposable society. And that's what's wrong with it.
What happened was, the Cold War was over, the Berlin Wall came down and the
Congress decided the Russians are not coming. Therefore let's release all these
dolphin back in the wild, save some money. And they gave the captivity industry
a half a million dollars to figure out how to do this. Behind closed doors in
Mexico, they brought in people from the captivity industry and they decided,
this can't be done successfully. So therefore we're going to take care of them
for the rest of their life at your expense, the taxpayers. People like myself
who have successfully released dolphins in the wild were not invited. It's a
rip-off and the American people today are still being ripped off because
they're being told that they cannot be released into the wild and that simply
is not true.
WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE SPECIFIC DOLPHINS LAST SUMMER?
O'BARRY: That release of the Navy dolphins, Buck and Luther, was a good
release. It was ethical, it was professional, it was well done, they were well
prepared. We took blood and could prove absolutely they didn't carry a virus to
the wild population. We freeze branded them; we weaned them off of the dead
fish. We extinguished all of the behaviours they learned in captivity but I
didn't give them a lobotomy. They can still remember this pinger that the Navy
uses and when I released them they were ringing with the pinger. We're talking
about the Dolphin Research Center, the Marine Mammal Conservancy, all of the
dolphin trainers, the U.S. Navy, Sea World was involved moving them from the
So the captivity industry sabotaged this with the help of the National Marine
Fisheries Service because they don't want them released. The Navy incidentally,
we're talking about civilian contractors, not really the Navy. The Navy is
being ripped off. The civilian contractors who are part of the Alliance of
Marine Parks - it's a matter of record - part of the ... Mammal Trainers
So we're doing this work--we're doing it behind enemy lines. We are in South
Florida. From Orlando to Key West is one big theme park and once you release
the dolphins into the wild there's a period of adjustment. They have to adjust
and you have to have some respect for them and simply leave them alone. That's
not what happened. As soon as they were released it looked like - do you know
what it reminded me of? When you see a hound being chased through the forest
and you see these guys in red coats and dogs, it was just like that and they
started feeding them dead fish right away. I have pictures of this. They
sabotaged it. They sabotaged it and had I released Flipper, the Brazilian
dolphin in the same area, he would be in captivity also. They would have
captured him and said, we saved him because he was in trouble.
THE PEOPLE WHO ARE AT THE MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE AND OTHERS HAVE TOLD US THAT
THEY FEEL LIKE YOU SABOTAGED IT BY RELEASING THEM
O'BARRY: By releasing them? Without a permit you mean? Yeah. It's a funny
thing, you know. We applied for a permit for a few dolphins just before the
Navy dolphins to test the waters to see if they were going to give us one. Now
bear in mind, if you want to capture dolphins and send them to a shopping
center in Canada, no problem. Here's your permit, they'll give it to you. The
tuna industry wants to kill 20,000 for their tuna operation, here's your
permit, no problem. You want to capture some to run them through the Dolphin
Research Center and sell them to a discotheque in Switzerland as a research
project, no problem here's your permit. Oh -- Ric O'Barry, you want to release
two? -- We're worried about those two. They're not worried about the 20,000
they just slaughtered.
So in response to the permit here was the answer I got, a fax--14 feet long
and all kind of reasons why I can't get a permit. Prove to us that dolphins are
capable of breeding in the wild and the predators are not going to attack
them. All kind of ridiculous things that you can't possibly prove. In other
words this says no, you can't have a permit. Ironically, if I wanted to take
the same two dolphins and exploit them in a swim program somewhere in Honduras
or out of the country, legally you could do that. They'll help you do that.
It's only when you want to do the right thing they stop you.
SOME OTHERS HAVE SUGGESTED THAT RELEASING THEM MAY HAVE BEEN THE RIGHT THING
TO DO -- BUT WAS IT THE BEST THING TO DO?
O'BARRY; To answer your question, it was the only thing to do. Look, there's
only two alternatives,okay? I know at this point before I release them, a few
days before I release them, I know for sure they're coming to confiscate them
and take them back to polluted San Diego Bay and put them into 30 by 30 cages
again, okay? I know also there's no permit required to release them. As a
matter of record, you will see that you didn't need a permit until 13 days
after the release.
You have to understand that I knew in advance, a few days in advance, from a
deep throat at the National Marine Fisheries Service and a veterinarian with
APHUS were coming to confiscate them and take them to San Diego Bay which is
polluted and put them back into this cage for the rest of their life. That was
the only thing to do, that was the responsible thing to do. And I released them
into the wild knowing there's no permit required but unfortunately it was
sabotaged. They were waiting for them. They knew they were coming and they were
there with the recall pinger. It's a matter of record. All ... dolphins are
trained to come to this pinger and although we extinguished all of their
behaviours we didn't give them a lobotomy. They remember that pinger and
members of the Dolphin Research Center and the Marine Mammal Conservancy
dolphin trainers were feeding them dead fish. Had I released Flipper in Brazil
in the same area they would have recaptured him and said we're saving him
because he's not making it.
There's a period of adjustment when you first release a dolphin into the wild
and during this period they may come ashore and contact people. In Brazil this
happened and we were able to ask the people, please don't feed the dolphin.
Respect this period of adjustment and they cooperated and as a result that was
very successful that release. Had we released that dolphin in the Florida Keys
they would have simply kept feeding him and capturing him. So we were in the
wrong place to do it. We wanted to take the dolphins to Mississippi but that
was impossible. That was not possible at all. Ah we did the right thing. We
prepared them properly and I feel good about it. It's just unfortunate that the
captivity industry is so powerful and they have the National Marine Fisheries
Service as their errand boy.
WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THAT THERE HAVE BEEN SO MANY REPORTS ABOUT THE DOLPHINS
TURNING UP WITH PROPELLER SCARS, UNDERWEIGHT, BEGGING FOR FOOD AT BOATS.
O'BARRY: They came ashore. People were feeding them. Begging for food, no. I
don't believe that was true. As a matter of fact, I should say this off the
record, excuse me. But we have absolute proof that they were catching their own
fish at the marina in Key West.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE END OF MAY '96?
O'BARRY: May 23rd, we released them in the Gulf of Mexico where they came
from. Not the exact area, but in the Gulf of Mexico. For a few days they
weren't seen and then they showed up in Key West at a marina. According to the
owner of the marina, they were catching fish like the wild dolphins do at his
marina all the time. The Dolphin Research Center, the Marine Mammal
Conservancy, the police, the Monroe County Sheriff's Department, the U.S. Navy,
[02:04:20] the Coast Guard were all there. It was absolutely - it was like a
Peter Sellers movie. And they asked the owner of the marina- 'would you allow
us to put a net across there and capture the dolphin and he said, hell no, he's
doing fine, believe me, I've watched the dolphins, they're catching fish.' They
were allowed to capture them and take them back to the Navy.
WHAT ABOUT THE SITUATION WITH THE NAVY AND THE RELEASE OF THE TWO DOLPHINS?
ROSE: The Navy uses bottlenose dolphins and a couple of other species in some
of their work. They've had dolphins in captivity since I believe the 60's,
possibly even the 50's. The program grew in the 70's and 80's until it included
at least 105 bottlenose dolphins and a few beluga whales and I believe a pilot
whale or two. And there was also a couple killer whales at some point in the
And generally speaking, what they were using them for was retrieving objects.
You know, it's a great method of retrieving things that fall overboard. You've
got basically an animal that's very smart and can be trained to fetch and you
just send them out after it to guard patrol, guard and patrol harbours, if
something strange or novel or not supposed to be there showed up, they would go
to their trainer and warn them.
And also apparently--and this is hotly debated in activist and advocate
circles-- also, apparently they train them to plant land mines on vessel hulls
and even to kill scuba divers. Now, apparently all that's kept classified, that
last category of task is still classified and so I'm not in a position to say
whether it's true or not. There are some individuals in the activist community
who swear that they were training them to do that so I just sort of leave that
to the audience to decide.
But I do know, of course they have no trouble admitting it's not classified,
that they were training them to do all these other things. And then, of
course, the entire military have budget cuts in the late 80's and whatever, and
so one of the first programs targeted to be downsized was the dolphin program.
Because in the end, a lot of of the brass recognized that a dolphin is not a
reliable soldier. They're moody. They have personalities, they don't
understand the concept of loyalty to their country. They're not citizens of
the United States, they're citizens of the ocean, so they weren't reliable. I
mean if they really didn't wanna do it, they wouldn't do it. And when you're
in a military combat specifically, combat situation--that's a very, very
troublesome element of uncertainty. So a lot of the brass were basically sort
of giving up on it anyway, at least in combat situations. You know, we're
having them retrieve objects and all that's great but, that's about it, you
didn't need 105 dolphins for that, so forth and so on.
So, they were gonna downsize and, we, being the advocate community, the Humane
Society, a few other groups, worked very hard in Congress to get them to
order the Navy to release those downsized animals back into the wild. Most of
them fact were wild caught, not all of them, but a lot of them, and, in fact we
got a directive from Congress to do that.
And what the Navy did with that directive was they got together a group of
experts, to discuss the viabilit of a rehabilitation and release program.
Congress appropriated $500,000, half a million dollars to look at the issue
and to do it.
I mean half a million dollars, a lot of money, so they I believe if you read
the language in the Congressional directive you'll see that they intended them
to use that money to do it. To start a program and release these dolphins.
Instead the Navy used that money to get together this panel of experts and
hold approximately I believe about six days of meetings. Now, they produced a
report at the end of those six days of meetings. Basically said
rehabilitation and release was probably possible but would be expensive and
would be experimental for at least another decade, and so they didn't recommend
that the Navy do it.
And at the end of all of that, $500,000 was missing. I mean I can only say
missing because it cannot possibly have cost all that money to have six days of
meetings and produce that report but that was the end of it for the Navy.
They still had to downsize however, so they offered basically about a dozen
animals to the public display industry-- any facility that was legal, licensed
by the government, could have these animals for the public display.
And when they made that offer,the activist community wanted to acquire some of
those animals for pilot rehab/release project, and there was a facility in
Florida, that was making itself available as a sanctuary. And after some
interesting discussions with the Navy, very intense negotiations ,the Navy
agreed to turn over six animals to this facility in Florida and the Humane
Society of the United States. And, the Humane Society was not actually going
to have title to these animals because we don't have a facility we're not in
the business of owning animals, of course. But we would oversee sort of the
project, this rehab release project through this facility in Florida.
So memorandum of agreement was written up and all of that. In the end, only
three animals came to that sanctuary. There was nothing, y'know sort of
sinister about that. It just--logistics worked out that way. And, the project
started out well, we had high hopes, we really did think that this was gonna
work. The animals were originally from Mississippi so they went to Florida
just as a halfway house and they were gonna be taught to eat live fish and
weaned off of human dependency and basically desensitized to commands. And
people handling them, and then they were gonna go to Mississippi and and be
released back where they were captured. That was the plan.
Unfortunately there was a lot of people problems and I think in the end,
captive wildlife often suffers from the inability of humans to get along. And I
feel very very sad about that, but it happens more times than I can possibly
Anyway, there were a lot of people problems and in the end certain
decisions were made that weren't exactly what we had planned. For instance we
had hoped to get a research permit from the United States government because
of course we wanted to do this legally. There's a law that protects marine
mammals, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and we wanted to make sure that
everything we did, from handling the animals to releasing them into the wild
There were those involved in the project who disagreed with that, they didn't
think the government did have legal authority over what we were planning to do.
So rather than take it to court, which is perhaps a matter for a court to
decide --they simply decided to conduct an act of civil disobedience and break
the law as it currently stands. Problem with that of course is the dolphins
didn't volunteer to perform an act of civil disobedience. And so the release
was conducted illegally and as I said it maybe that the government doesn't have
any jurisdiction over that sort of action but it's something that needs to be
decided in a court. It's unresolved at the moment so until it's resolved in a
court, you have to presume that the government does have authority.
So they did do an illegal release, they being the, the activists who disagreed
with the Humane Society, and obviously the animals weren't prepared. The
protocols that we had hoped would be followed to prepare them for life back in
the wild were not followed. They were still dependent on people, they still
associated people with food, all of these habits that we, the Humane Society
of United States feel need to be broken before they're released weren't.
And then, to top it all off, instead of taking them back to Mississippi, they
released them off of Key West and the analogy I like to use for that is that
it's like taking somebody who knows New York Cityreally really well and saying
-- 'hey, big cities are big cities, let them go in the middle of Chicago' and
expect them to get along. They don't know any of the street names, they don't
know any of y'know directions they don't know where all the important points in
the city are, they don't know the subway, or the L or whatever, I mean, just
because it's a big city doesn't mean it's the big city they know just because
it's the ocean doesn't mean it's the part of the ocean that they know so they
didn't know any of the dolphins in that area, they were total strangers.
And it wasn't even like they were returning to Mississippi and remeeting old
friends or relatives, they were complete and total strangers in a strange land
when they were released off of Key West And as I said, they apparently weren't
prepared because they immediately started begging for food.
Within two weeks they were recaptured because the National Marine Fisheries
Service considered it an illegal release which it technically was at that
point, and confiscated them. It was easy to recapture them, that in and of
itself should say something. If they were truly wild again, it would have
been just as hard to recapture them as if they had been newly captured, instead
they just called them and they came. They responded to the signals, nothing
had been extinguished, and so they came right to people. They were starving,
they weren't doing very well, they had been injured, apparently two of them in
fact had been hit by a boat. They'd separated, so they caught them in
different areas, about 70 miles apart and now all three of these dolphins are
back with the Navy. One of them in fact is still in Florida and probably will
remain there although I believe technically is still a Navy dolphin, the other
two are back in San Diego in the Navy facility there.
RIC O'BARRY IS ON RECORD SAYING HE WAS THE ONE WHO RELEASED THESE NAVY
DOLPHINS>. AND HE'S VERY CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU SAID-- THAT NMFS HAD NO
ROSE: He may be right. The Humane Society of the US isn't terribly interested
at the moment in pursuing that legally because, we believe we can get a permit.
And, we feel that that will give us a stronger case, that we can justify it
scientifically and ethically and pragmatically. And because we want the
biggest stick to whack the public display industry over the head with. We want
to be able to say to them - 'see we can play your game, not.' And we don't
think it's a dirty game. We think getting a permit from the government is
perfectly legitimate process'We can play your game and we can win and we can
prove, prove to your satisfaction, let alone ours that these animals can be
returned to the wild. So that's why we aren't particularly interested in
pursuing this as a legal matter.
But, Mr. O'Barry may be perfectly correct that the National Marine Fisheries
Servicereally doesn't have jurisdiction over rehabilitation and release
efforts. If that's so, they gotta go to court. This has gotta be decided by a
court. That's what a lawsuit is all about, challenging the legal authority --
in this case-- the National Marine Fishery Service.
And a judge will look at all the evidence and look at the statute, look at the
language and say y'know -- you don't have authority or, I'm sorry you do have
authority, whatever the judge decides. And that's how you deal with that. You
don't simply commit an act of civil disobedience, with innocent animals that
don't know what they're getting into, I mean I know that sounds funny but, the
dolphins were pawns in a political gesture. I don't think that's fair.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE IMPACT OF WHAT O'BARRY DID ON HIS OWN LARGER PURPOSE?
ROSE: Well, basically the activist and advocate community is divided. There are
those who believe it's important to do this legitimately. By legitimately I
mean legally, as things standwith a scientific research permit. With all of
the trappings, if you will, that go along with that. And then there's the side
of the community that believes that all that's just hooey and it should be--
the government doesn't have authority and we should just be able to
rehabilitate, release these animals without any more fuss.
And, I think we've made it very clear to the larger audience, including the
public display industry that there is such a division and I regret the
division. Division's bad but nevertheless it exists. Therefore what happened
with the Navy dolphins, I think is, clearly separate, even to our enemies if
you will than what some of the rest of us want to accomplish.
So in terms of the damage it may or may not have done, I don't think it was
particularly damaging. On the other hand it was terribly damaging to Jake,
Buck and Luther. They were away from the Navy, they were on their way to being
rehabilitated and returned to the wild, and they're back with the Navy now. In
the end[01:19:40] you have to look at results, not intentions and the result of
what happened in that situation is that those animals are no longer on the
roadto freedom. And I can't emphasize that enough.
THE DOLPHINS OUT IN SAN DIEGO ARE LUTHER AND BUCK?
ROSE: Luther and Jake... Buck is still in Florida.
The pens in the Navy facility are 30 by 30. That is six feet by six feet more
than is required by law. Okay. Minimum horizontal dimension. Minimum
circumference, if you will, of a circle or one side of a square is not the same
as ideal by any means. It's one of the things I find most troublesome about US
law. US law set up so that it can only establish minimum dimensions of an
enclosure. It cannot mandate ideal dimensions.
If the minimum dimensions are truly minimum, then some facilities are gonna try
to get away with just the bare minimum, [02:01:30] okay. Minimum in this case,
since it's all they can mandate, should be very generous on the side of the
animal, it should give every benefit of the doubt to the animal. Ultimately the
constituent of the animal and plant health inspection service of the USDA is
the animal. But just get them to admit that, to them the constituent is the
industry. That's terrible.