interviewRichard O'Barry
a self described 'abolitionist' on the issue of animal captivity.  Years ago he was the trainer of the dolphins who collectively played Flipper.  He believes that one of them, Kathy, committed suicide after she was retired to a small steel tank shut off from contact with people or other dolphins.  In 1996 O'Barry was involved in controversy after he helped release three Navy dolphins.



WHAT'S WRONG WITH CAPTIVITY?

What's wrong with captivity. There's a lot of things and I'm not sure I can capsulize it but I'll try. It probably starts with the capture. It's violent, it's kind of like rape and I've captured many, many dolphins. That's how I started, capturing dolphins for the ... Aquarium. You chase them down to exhaustion. You separate mothers and babies. You take the young. We take the very best, incidentally. 80% of the captures are young females taken away from their mothers. How this affects the gene pool nobody will ever know. I mean the science of that is very, very questionable. The word science doesn't even come up when they're doing that and the National Marine Fishery Service doesn't ask them to prove that this is not having a detrimental impact on the environment - the captive industry and the National Marine Fishery Service. It's only when you want to put them back do they question the science.

But to answer your question: what's wrong with captivity? The capture, bring them into a concrete chlorinated box, reducing them to circus clowns and then selling this as educational to the public. And I think it's extremely dangerous. This issue for me is not just about the dolphins. There's about a thousand in captivity and it's more about the millions of people who go and see the show, go and see Shamu. They're learning, it is educational, they're learning, however, that it's okay to abuse nature. That's what they come away with that these - it only serves - the Shamu experience or the captivity experience only serves to perpetuate our insidious, utilitarian perception of nature and it's an issue about education. To teach a child not to step on a caterpillar or a butterfly is as important to the child as it is the butterfly. And that's what's wrong with it.

AND WHAT ARE THE TWO MESSAGES? IN OTHER WORDS THE MESSAGE THAT COMES AWAY FROM THE SHAMU SHOW VERSUS THE MESSAGE THAT COMES AWAY FROM WHAT YOU CONSIDER GOOD EDUCATION.

So any intelligent person who sees a trained dolphin show whether it's Shamu or Flipper or Keiko or whatever, would have to conclude if they were honest, that what they just witnessed was a spectacle of dominance. That's what's wrong with it. It teaches us that dominance is good. Dominance is right, dominance works and that's the problem.

CAN YOU SUMMARIZE THE BACKGROUND OF THE STORY WITH LUTHER AND BUCK THE TWO NAVY DOLPHINS?

So what happened was the Cold War was over. The Cold War was over, the Berlin Wall came down and the Congress decided the Russians are not coming, 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 another rip-off. 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?

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 behaviors 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 Centre, the Marine Mammal Conservancy, all of the dolphin trainers, the U.S. Navy, Sea World was involved moving them from the sanctuary, the Shad Aquarium was involved. So it's really the captivity industry sabotaged this with the help of the National Marine Fisheries Service because they don't want them released. Releasing - 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 association.

So we're doing this work, you have to understand we're doing it behind enemy lines. We are in Florida, South Florida. From Orlando too 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

By releasing them? Without a permit you mean? Yeah. It's a funny thing. 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 Centre 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 pages long here or 15 pages, 14 feet long I should say 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?

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.



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