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 behaviors we
didn't give them a lobotomy. They remember that pinger and members of the
Dolphin Research Centre 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. 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.
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.
SO WHAT HAPPENED AT THE END OF MAY '96?
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 Centre, the Marine Mammal Conservancy, the
police, the Monroe County Sheriff's Department, the U.S. Navy, 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.
They have an agenda. The agenda is to make sure no dolphins can be released.
Therefore we can keep them in captivity and keep this money flow going into
this contractor for the Navy. It's not the Navy. The Navy is being ripped off.
I like the Navy. I was in the Navy for 5 years. My father was in the Navy. My
son may go in the Navy. My experience with the Navy was a good one and it's not
about what's wrong with the Navy, it's what's wrong with using dolphins as
advanced biological weapons systems. And why is the dolphin trainers who work
for this industry, how come they're not speaking out about this despicable
WHAT'S WRONG WITH USING A DOLPHIN AS AN ADVANCED BIOLOGICAL WEAPON SYSTEM?
What's wrong with using a dolphin as an advanced biological weapon system? 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, in Camron Bay. 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 phony 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.
.. THEY'RE REQUESTING THAT YOU DON'T DO ANYTHING WITHOUT A PERMIT.
I remember this. Actually this is addressed to Lloyd Good who was the
director. This one is directed at both of us and basically she's saying if you
release the dolphins without a permit it's against the law and you're going to
be prosecuted, blah, blah, blah. She knows we're not going to get a permit when
she writes this thing. And so my response was to call and say, show me the
law. Show me the law that says I need a permit and she could not provide it.
There is no law that says you need a permit to release a dolphin in the wild
until 13 days after the release. It was a brand new designer law, the Rick
O'Barry law, you can't release dolphins without a permit from us. And these are
the same people who routinely, as a matter of fact, they approved 99.4% of all
permits that cross their desk to abuse dolphins anywhere you want to abuse
them. You want to send them to discotheques, shopping centers, you want to kill
them in your tuna nets, they give you a permit. They don't protect them, the
National Marine Fisheries, they regulate them. The system simply doesn't work
so therefore I don't work within the system. What I do, my work is really about
appealing to the consumers of this billion dollar industry. They represent the
only hope for change. And the theory is if you educate the public they will
act responsible. It's a billion dollar industry based on supply and demand,
like any other business - Coca-Cola, magazines, whatever. And if the consumer
is educated, maybe they won't buy the ticket. This worked in the United
Kingdom. There are no more captive dolphins there and incidentally they had
laws to say you can't capture dolphins because there's something wrong with it
so they would import them from Florida with a permit from the National Marine
So here's the same agency that has sent dolphins to hell holes all over the
world and I've seen them. I've been there and I've seen them. I've just come
from the Adriatic coast where dolphins in Italy are in despicable conditions -
captured from the United States by veterinarians and sent there with a permit
and the blessing from the United States Department of Commerce. There's an
inherent contradiction here. The Department of Commerce are supposed to
facilitate big business and at the same time protect the dolphins. That's like
telling them stand up and sit down at the same time. They can't really do that
and so they help big business. They are in fact the dolphin's worst enemy and
that is a matter of record. More dolphins have been killed with permits from
the National Marine Fisheries Service than any place in the world.
OTHERS HAVE SAID THAT IN ORDER TO REALLY MAKE PROGRESS IN THE ANTI-CAPTIVITY
MOVEMENT YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE SCIENTIFIC PROTOCOLS AND SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE AND
THAT WHAT YOU'VE DONE DOESN'T ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN.
Well that's simply not true. As a matter of fact when we had the dolphins at
the Sugar Loaf Dolphin Sanctuary and were preparing them to be released into
the wild, we invited Marine Mammal scientists - ... Rose was one of them - to
come there and document what's going on. This is a - there's a method to this.
I've given you the protocol I wrote. There's a method to this. It's a healing
art. It really isn't science from my perspective but if science wants to
participate, that's fine. There's no problem with that. But they never do that.
They simply turn up their nose and they say well there's no science and they
leave. Well there was no science until a scientist comes down there and makes
a commitment and gets involved. But that requires money and they don't want to
spend the money. So that's simply untrue.
I welcome scientists to get involved and listen, I hope they will. After all
it was the scientists who got these dolphins in this bad position to begin
with. The rule saying you can keep a dolphin a space 24 feet by 24 feet by 6
feet deep, well who made up this regulation? The scientist, the marine mammal
scientist and that's been one of the biggest problems we have is there's a lot
of marine mammal scientists and veterinarians in particular who are
prostituting themselves to this captive industry and they don't speak out and
they don't get involved and they don't rock the boat because their funding is
going to get cut off. So it's really hard to find scientists who will get
involved and unless you pay them an incredible amount of money.
IT SOUNDS LIKE IT'S ALL ABOUT MONEY.
Absolutely it's all about money, yeah. There's no question about that.
Releasing a dolphin in the wild is really basically a very simple procedure.
It's not a big deal. And if you spend millions of dollars doing it for one
dolphin, you're then setting a very bad precedent. You're saying that , you
start ... this criteria. Well let's see, we can only release dolphins that are
between the ages of let's say 5 and 9 or something okay? You can only release
pairs of dolphins. You can only release them in the exact spot where they were
captured. When you start cutting off their possibilities, there's very few
dolphins left in the world that are candidates and it takes millions of dollars
so you're playing into the hands of the captivity industry. Actually it's a
very simple procedure. It's a very cost effective procedure.
And I think we've proven that with Flipper in Brazil. That was done very well.
It was done very simply. In 3 months the dolphin was released. We have absolute
empirical scientific documentation showing it was successful. Yet the
captivity industry and even some marketing people in the animal welfare
industry are saying, well that wasn't successful, we need more science,
therefore we've got to raise more money. It's always about money. It's about
jobs and money, money and jobs. It's always about that.
SO YOU ARE SAYING SPENDING A LOT OF MONEY ON ONE RELEASE, FOR EXAMPLE KEIKO'S
RELEASE IN OREGON OR ICELAND - WOULD BE SETTING A BAD PRECEDENT. WHAT IS THAT
PRECEDENT AND WHY IS IT BAD?
Well let's just look at what has happened so far. They transferred Keiko from
one tank to another tank. This is no big deal incidentally. Sea World does this
every day, yet it's on the cover of Life magazine and millions and millions of
dollars are being raised for the transfer. We don't really know whether Keiko
is a candidate or not yet. If it's established he is a candidate then you
raise the money and release him. So yeah I have a problem, I've had a problem
in the last 4 or 5 years with some people in the animal welfare industry,
marketing people getting involved in this issue for money reasons. It seems to
me for the last 30 years I've been swinging on this vine all by myself. Only
lately have they gotten involved since the Free Willy story.
So they transferred Keiko from one tank, substandard tank, much like the tank
Lolita lives in, in Miami to another tank in Oregon. I think they should have
transferred Keiko to natural sea water where the, I say natural sea water, I'm
talking about a natural environment back in nature, back into the sea where
you can experience the natural rhythms of the sea and the tides and the
currents. This is where the healing process begins. This could have been done
for a fraction of what it cost to build a tank.
I'm an abolitionist. I'll come right out and say it. I want to abolish the
tank. The idea is not to make the tank bigger. Abolish the tank. You don't need
the tank. Move the dolphin to natural sea water where the healing process can
begin. If this dolphin proves to be a candidate to be released then you raise
the money and release them. We don't know that he's a candidate. I would like
to think so but I don't consider all dolphins in captivity. I didn't release
all the Navy dolphins. One of them was not a candidate. This has to be done in
a responsible way and it has to be done in a way without ripping the public
There are people who are involved in this Free Keiko Foundation movement who
are not involved, have never been involved in this movement to release captive
dolphins back into the wild or have ever spoken out against captive. As a
matter of fact, most of the debating I do is with Lanny Connell, or used to
do. He worked for Sea World. He was the vice-president and a veterinarian. And
of course he was very pro-captive- we called him Mr. Pro-captivity. He didn't
change his mind overnight. He got fired from Sea World and now he's working for
the Captive Dolphin program in the Las Vegas casino there, the Mirage. He's
also working for the Keiko Foundation. And if you know how this captivity thing
works, you know that the veterinarian is like God. They're tin gods. Whatever
they say is the way it's going to go. I don't care how many people on the board
of directors say let's free Willy; it's up to the doctor. The doctor knows
best and that's Lanny Connell.
I predict as long as he's involved, this dolphin, Keiko, will be in captivity
and marketed for the rest of his life. Lanny is getting $100,000 a year to be a
consultant. That's an obscene salary. It should be a volunteer job. There
should be some altruism here. The people who are involved have lots of money.
They don't have to raise more money. It hurts what I'm doing when you go to the
public and say give us some money. Well you already have a billion dollars,
pal. The Humane Society of the U.S. is on the board of directors. They have $40
million in reserve. The public gave them that money to save the animals not
save the money. They can spend that and release Keiko if he's releasable, build
a sea pen for the Navy dolphin somewhere in Mississippi. Why haven't they done
that? Why haven't they built a pen or the Navy dolphins in Mississippi? It's
odd isn't it? They have so much money it makes me angry and it hurts what
We're part of a grass roots movement to abolish the dolphin slave trade and now
I see marketing people taking over and I see Keiko - now we've got a Keiko
Barbie doll or something out there and this is obscene.
WHAT WILL YOU DO IF IT LOOKS LIKE KEIKO IS GOING TO SPEND A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT
OF TIME IN THIS PEN?
What will I do if he stays in captivity for the rest of his life? Well I won't
be surprised, for one thing. I think that's the way it's going to go. I hope
that it's in a natural sea pen somewhere and my hope is that they will
identify him properly. He is not an ambassador. Shamu is not an ambassador.
Flipper is not an ambassador. These are victims. You need to identify them
properly. He can be moved to a natural sea pen and maybe live out his life in a
natural surrounding, semi-natural, eating live fish and this is doable today.
This was doable when he left Mexico. Why they didn't do it, I don't know. I
don't understand it.
YOU'VE BEEN SUCCESSFUL SEVERAL TIMES IN GETTING DOLPHINS TO START EATING FISH,
LIVE FISH. WHAT'S THE TRICK? HOW DO YOU DO IT?
There's no trick in getting dolphins to eat life fish. When I used to debate
with Lanny Connell when he was at Sea World, he would say, well you can't
teach a dolphin to eat live fish once they've been in captivity. He could teach
them to catch a ball but not a fish. Something wrong with this picture here.
No, there's a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo and double talk and nonsense. It's
a very simple thing. You offer them live fish and after a while they become
interested in it. You know what I used to do, I used to have a cage of live
fish and I would fill it full of - I had a small cage with live fish and I
would put it in the pen with the dolphin. And just looking at it they would sit
there for hours looking and jaw popping and using sonar and I guess they're
thinking about live fish. A lot of it's mental. I don't see any of that going
on. What I see is a picture of a window and Keiko is on the other side and
they've got these diamonds and squares and this mumbo jumbo about how you
cannot train Keiko to become wild. That is not possible. The training is the
problem to begin with. The training is the problem so the less training you do
the better. You've got to take them to a natural sea enclosure and just leave
them alone. Don't do anything. Just leave them alone. And again, habitat
dictates behavior. If the dolphin is in a concrete box -
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE PROBLEMS YOU SEE WITH DOLPHINS BEING IN A CONCRETE PEN?
Habitat dictates behavior. If Keiko is in a concrete box, he'll act like a
captive dolphin in a concrete box. If you put Keiko in a lagoon where he can
once again experience the natural rhythms of the sea and the tides and the
currents and all of those things and leave him alone, you'll see that he will
start looking at things below the water and not raising his head and looking
around above the water and start catching fish and again habitat dictates
behavior. Their behavior will be shaped by the habitat. He's still in the
concrete box on display. The show is different now. The show is the freedom
show or something.
The things I'm saying now about habitat dictates behavior and if you leave them
they'll do it, you can use that as voice over. I'm remembering how the process
- actually the less you do the better. Less is more. The more you interfere and
you start training them to become wild again, that's an allusion, that's
nonsense. You can't really do that. That's impossible. You have to get them
away from civilization, away from people and concrete and boxes and all these
manmade things because they're thinking about all of this stuff. You get them
in the right habitat they start dealing with what's there. If there's nothing
there but nature they become wild again. It's a very simple thing really. It's
not a big deal. Moving Keiko into the wild is not more difficult that moving
Flipper in Brazil into the wild. The airplane is bigger, the box is bigger, the
cage is bigger, all that stuff is bigger but it's basically the same
IS THERE AN OPPORTUNITY HERE WITH THESE MARINE MAMMAL STARS - THEY ARE
AMBASSADORS FOR CONSERVATION?
They can be yeah, they can be. But certainly Flipper isn't except Flipper, we
knew Flipper was a fantasy. We knew that. The audience knew that. When you go
to Sea World and you watch wild animals reduced to circus clowns they come away
thinking this is how they really are in nature. And I don't say this to be
unkind because the trainers, the dolphin trainers themselves by and large are
very caring people and they love the dolphins and that's why they apply for
that job. But I must also say that if there was a way, if it was possible to
display a dolphin or Keiko so that it served to acquaint the public with who
they are and how they are in nature then yes that would be a positive
educational experience. But they can't do that so they simply bastardize the
definition of education and we all buy it.
WHEN YOU SAY ABOLITIONIST, WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
I mean abolish the tank, abolish the dolphins performing for our amusement.
There will always be dolphins in captivity, no question about that. We've been
capturing them and displaying them since 1938. There are some that become
stranded and need to be in captivity long enough to be rehabilitated and
released. That should be the show. That may be possible to do some day in some
of these places but only when the public stops buying tickets for these
ridiculous shows that we're watching.
THE FREE WILLY FOUNDATION PEOPLE SAY THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT THEY'RE TRYING TO DO,
THAT THEY WANT TO CREATE A PIPELINE FOR STRANDED ANIMALS AND OTHERS TO
EVENTUALLY - KEIKO WILL BE RELEASED AND THEN AFTER THAT -
And I would like to, and I will, give them the benefit of the doubt. There is
some doubt. They have the benefit of the doubt. But for my own personal
experience with some of these people, I don't believe them. I don't believe
Lanny Cornell. I don't believe him. I know better. It seems to me it's all
about money at this point. I want to know how much money they raised. Why don't
they tell me that? When I ask that question can you show me the - I want to
see if you're giving tranquilizers because I know most of these orcas are
getting tranqued and I question the mental health of many of them including
Keiko. I'm not convinced he's a candidate to be released. But when I ask this
information or anybody asks this information which should be forthcoming, you
get stonewalled, you get sidetracked, you get double talk, just like talking to
Sea World. It's no different. So that creates suspicion.
I was in Switzerland a few days ago where a lot of children got 80,000
signatures to get this dolphin out of this discotheque and sent back to
Florida. Some of those children come up to me and they say, hey I helped free
Willy. They think he's free. They sent their nickels and dimes, well Lanny
Connell gets a hundreds thousand of that in his pocket first of all .... I want
to tell the kids where the money is going and I can't. So I'm suspicious, I'm
I want to see them to into a natural - into a lagoon somewhere. There's no
reason we can't do that. The healing process will begin when that happens.
There's been a lot of progress and it was a wonderful thing getting him out of
that tank. That's a good thing and I'm all for that. I wrote a letter to them
congratulating them but it's time to abolish the tank You don't need these
tanks. You can rehabilitate a dolphin, stranded dolphins in natural sea water
in a lagoon. As long as there's a tank, once he's taken out something else
will be put in there. That's the problem. I say thanks but no tanks.
PEOPLE IN THE FREE WILLY FOUNDATION HAVE SAID TO ME THAT ... BECAUSE IT'S
IMPORTANT TO PLAY BALL WITH THE INDUSTRY AND TO PLAY BALL WITH VARIOUS
CONSTITUENCIES. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?
No, I don't think you should play ball with them, no, no, you shouldn't play
ball with them, they're wrong and you should change the laws and make them
right. They have the money and the power to do that. They're playing footsies
with them under the table. No, no, the answer is no. Don't play ball with
them. The laws are wrong. Change it.
... EVERY KID IN AMERICA FOR GENERATIONS IS IN LOVE WITH FLIPPER I WONDER IF
YOU WOULD TELL US ABOUT YOUR EARLY EXPERIENCES AND WHAT HAPPENED WITH KATHY AND
HOW THAT SET YOU ON THE ROAD THAT YOU'RE ON NOW.
Oh boy, that one won't go away. Yeah, well- you have to understand, we didn't
have the information in the 1960s that we have today. Today we know that only
three things are killing these dolphins - our pollution, our fishing nets and
our captivity. I didn't know that in the 1960s. I was - you have to remember I
was probably the highest paid animal trainer in the world during that period.
And it's very easy to lull yourself into complacency when you're getting a new
Porsche every year and you know, just living a great life style and have your
blinders on. To be perfectly blunt, I was as ignorant as I could be for as
long as I could be.
And it wasn't until Cathy died of suicide, what I would say, and I say that
word with great trepidation and the lack of - I don't know what else to call
it. But you probably know that dolphins and whales are not automatic air
breathers. Every breath they take is a conscious effort. So they can end their
life whenever they want to and that's what Cathy did. She chose to not take
that next breath and you have to call that suicide, self-induced asphyxiation
in a steel tank at the ... Aquarium.
Well that's why I'm so opposed to tanks. We don't need tanks. WE could have
moved her into a natural lagoon. It's infinitely less expensive. You only need
to run a fence across the mouth of a lagoon. You don't need a filter system,
you don't need to refrigerate the water. But the veterinarians and the
scientists and the trainers all have to have control and so they moved them
from tank to tank for marketing reasons. But Flipper died in captivity, to get
back to your question and that's the thing that turned me around. That was on
Earth Day 1970 coincidentally. That was the first Earth Day.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT IT?
Yeah I got a phone call from the Seaquarium telling me she was not doing well.
I had already left. The show was over. We lived together for 7 years. The
Flipper house at the Seaquarium is still there. That was really my home. The
actors didn't live there, they lived elsewhere. So I lived with them 24 hours a
day 7 days a week and we bonded, very close with them. Well one day it was all
over. You know, the wheels fell off. It was a wrap, that's it. The costumes go
back in the trunk, the props go back in the prop locker and we were all
separated. And some of them were sold off to traveling shows in Europe. The
Octoberfest going on in Germany.
Cathy was put in a steel tank in isolation and she committed suicide there.
And a lot of them do that. There's a lot of dolphins who have died in captivity
the same way but you'll never know it because the veterinarian fills out the
report and sends it to the National Marine Fishery Services. This is called
the marine mammal inventory report. The National Marine Fishery Service don't
do anything with this information. It just sits there. They don't even know
what it means. It may mean that captivity doesn't even work. They don't know.
It's just a big bureaucratic mess. So the system doesn't work, to make a long
story short. It doesn't work.
SO YOU ...
That's hard to do. Yeah boy that's really hard to talk about that. I don't like
thinking about that.
READ IT ..FROM YOUR BOOK?
I don't think I could read it. It's really very difficult. I remember going
out there that day and it was a very hot day. There was no shade at all and I
hadn't seen her - well - so I approached the tank which was about this level
here and she was on the other side. She had blisters this size from the sun.
She was black from sunburn because she spent most of her time on the surface of
the water. Her fin was bent just like Keiko's. That's why they're bent,
gravity. That's nature saying there's something wrong here. Try going under
water when there's no gravity.
And so she swam over and looked me right in the eye, took a breath, and just
held it. Just held it. Well so I grabbed her like this and she sank to the
bottom of the tank. I let her go and she sank. I jumped in and pulled her to
the surface. She committed suicide. The tank - the tank is a bad thing. It's
the killing tanks.
So that's why I'm an abolitionist.
Thanks but no tanks, that's the message. So to spent 10 million to build
another one, I don't get it.