interviewRichard O'Barry

continued



previous

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 program?

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 Fisheries Service.

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 off.

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 doing.

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 procedure.

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 dubious.

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.




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