Richard O’Barry and the dolphins
Hello everyone! As promised, here is the article about the dolphins from the TV show Flipper and their trainer, Richard O’Barry. I’ll be translating the great interview I found on the Dolphin Blog . Pierre, who created the blog, was lucky to meet Ric O’Barry and interview him during the International Week of Action for Captive Dolphins in 2004:
“Pierre: When did you start working with dolphins?
Ric O’Barry: I started working with dolphins in 1961. I was the main trainer of the dolphins and orcas of the Miami Seaquarium. But in 1970, I started to fight against this industry I helped create. Now, I work for a French group of animal protection: One Voice.
P: What gets you to act in favor of dolphins today?
R: I feel partly responsible for the creation of the multibillion dollar industry exploiting dolphins in captivity, so I am strongly determined to contribute to the end of the traffic of captive dolphins.
My real job started the day when Flipper died, on the eve of the first Earth Day in 1970. Since then, I have been trying to educate the public about the treatment and the condition of captive dolphins in dolphinariums, hoping to reach them and make them stop buying tickets for those kinds of shows.
P: You participated in the captures of the dolphins playing in Flipper?
R: I captured the five dolphins who played the role of Flipper. I have trained them all, from the very first episode to the very last. I lived with them at the Seaquarium. Every Friday night, at 7:30pm, I would take the TV, with a long extension cord, to the end of the dock, so that Flipper could watch Flipper on TV. This is when I understood dolphins were conscious of themselves. I could tell when they recognized themselves. For instance, Kathy would recognize some shots of her and Suzy hers, etc.
P: What changed your point of view about the dolphin captivity?
R: Kathy died in my arms. She committed suicide. It was on the eve of the very first Earth Day, in 1970. The next day, I found myself at the prison of Bimini, trying, for the first time, to free a dolphin. I was completely disoriented.
P: How do you know it was a suicide?
R: Dolphins, not like humans, do not breathe automatically. Each breath represents an effort for them. Kathy looked me in the eye, took a breath, kept it but didn’t take another one. She drowned herself at the bottom of the tank. It deeply affected me.
P: The TV show Flipper gave a certain image of dolphins. How would you describe this image that led to a real “dolphin mania”, if I may use this term, during the 60s?
R: It’s true, there was a certain “dolphin mania”. But it is much bigger now than it was in the 60s. Dolphinariums were only a small industry during the 60s. There were only 3-4 places where you could see dolphins. Today, the industry is multibillionaire. Probably because of the popularity of the show Flipper.
The show’s success is a lot related to actual traffic of dolphins and the image we have of them. The image pictured by the dolphinariums industry, in places like Parc Astérix, Marineland in Antibes, or Sea World, is the one of a clown. And I think it does a lot of harm to dolphins and nature in general. They call it education, but, sadly for the dolphins, it is a wrong education.
Dolphins are wild animals, just like lions, tigers, elephants. They should keep this image. Unfortunately, because of the dolphinariums’ industry, the public sees them as acrobatic clowns, a creature here to amuse us, entertain us.
P: When did you start working for the Navy?
R: I was in the Navy from 1955 to 1960. I worked for the unit called “anti-submarine hunter-killer”.
P: Is it true dolphins were used during WWII?
R: No, it’s wrong. Dolphins were used for the Navy from 1959. It’s quite recent. “Navy Dolphins” were used in Vietnam but not in WWII.
P: “Navy Dolphins” are now called “Advanced Biological Weapon Systems”. Were they always called this way?
R: Yes, the Navy gave them this name, and the Navy still uses it. It should give an idea of how they are treated. Dolphins are considered as “systems”, disposable systems for a society that considers disposables as a way of being.
P: What is their status? Closer to “war dog” or “marine private”?
R: A little bit of both. But they are rather considered as dog wars: they are “war dolphins”. They are used to detect mines. In Vietnam, they were used to defend harbors. The Russian marine also used them to guard submarines and other ships in several parts of the Black Sea. Yes, indeed, Navy Dolphins are, in a way, war dogs.
P: Numerous rumors have run concerning the American Navy Dolphins, especially because of the secret around this program in the 90s. Is it true that there were programs aiming at training “killing dolphins”?
R: I think, or rather, I know, that it is true. In Vietnam, there were 13 dolphins in the Cam Ran cove. I knew these dolphins who were kept in the marine base of Key West in Florida. I even got very close to them at some point…
P: You once said in an interview that dolphin intelligence was neither inferior nor superior, but simply different than ours. However, do you think we will have found a way to communicate with them in the future? There is some current, in progress project aiming at establishing an interspecific communication.
R: Yes, I am very familiar with this project. However, I believe we still have a lot of work to do until we actually establish a real communication. Why? Because we haven’t learnt how to communicate between humans yet. We have to learn how to do that first.
And we have to know what the term “communication” exactly means. You know, there are many stories of dolphins who rescued humans from the sea. They go back to Ancient Greece and today we possess large data concerning dolphins rescuing endangered people from the sea. These people were really rescued by dolphins.
I myself witnessed these kinds of events twice in my life, I therefore know it’s true. This is communication in my opinion. I think it is a form of altruistic communication.
P: I know you are against programs holding captive dolphins so I went to the Dolphin Research Center (Key West, Florida).
R: Yes, I hate this place. People who know what is really going on there call it the Dolphin Riding Center. From what I saw, this center isn’t really a research center. Captive dolphins just swim around in order to get food. If you don’t have any food for them, they will not show any interest at you. Every captive dolphin is controlled by food. If you didn’t have any reward, dolphins wouldn’t cooperate and wouldn’t let people go in the water, kiss them, swim with them or any other stupid thing we might want from them.
P: It’s a form of slavery.
P: What do you think about the dolphins’ intelligence?
R: You use the term “intelligence”… It’s a concept created by men. For instance, from a butterfly’s point of view, I am not intelligent at all. I can’t do anything the butterfly does, so… Intelligence is a human concept.
P: Do you think that our perception of the dolphins’ intelligence plays a determining role in the favor of their rights demands?
R: Yes, absolutely. I think they should have… They actually already have “natural rights”, just like humans. The fact that we can walk in a street without getting attacked, for example. We were born with these rights. Can’t the other animals have the same protection? Why not? I think the dolphins’ natural right is: being able to swim, mile after mile, without getting attacked, captured or killed.
P: Are you in favor of a protection for all the animals?
R: Yes, absolutely. I have only worked with dolphins, but it’s only because I have a particular relation with them. I don’t think dolphins are more important or less important than sharks, for example. You know, shark is to the ocean what the lion is to the Serengeti Plain in Africa. Without sharks in the ocean, there would be no dolphins. Everything is connected. It so happens I have worked with dolphins, but dolphins are no more important than sharks or any other animal.
P: What is the best way to protect dolphins? Is it by education, action?
R: Both are very important. There is no magical recipe to make disappear all threats weighing on the animals. I would advise French people who want to act for the protection of animals to join One Voice. In this case, we do both: education and direct action. One Voice is currently doing something brave. It’s not about business, actual passion lives through that team…
P: How many dolphins did you free?
R: Oh, I didn’t keep track… Maybe twenty. I don’t know… We freed Navy’s two dolphins. But they were recaptured. Let’s see… There was also Liberty and Florida in the Bahamas, Opo in Miami Biscayne cove, Joe and Rosy in Georgia, Nica and Bluefield in Nicaragua, Ariel and Turbo in Guatemala, Flipper in Brazil, and many others…
P: Are mentality and attitudes in the United States changing towards dolphins?
R: No… Unfortunately, our relationship with dolphins seems to be exclusively based on what dolphins can do for us. Most people interested in dolphins wonder what dolphins can do for them. It is still a very utilitarian relationship we have with dolphins. America is a nation of insatiable consumers, they want what they want and they want it now!
P: You witnessed massacres and captures of dolphins in Japan, and filmed everything for One Voice. Do you think we should establish a more resolute legislation in order to protect the dolphins?
R: I think international pressure on the Japanese government will bring results faster than legislation. With One Voice, we shot 9 hours of video and made a 30-minute DVD, sent it to BBC, CNN, TF1 and France 2 (Both French TV Channel), and to all the newspapers and TV channels possible. This is the kind of publicity the Japanese government does not want. And maybe this will be faster than establishing legislation, maybe this will be a more effective way to pressure the Japanese government to make it stop these barbaric practises.
P: Are you in favor of a declaration of the rights of dolphins?
R: Like a declaration of the rights of animals? I think it’s a good idea, and for all the other living things of this planet as well.
P: Would you like to add something concerning the rights of dolphins?
R: It’s difficult to sum up in few words. The best thing we could do for dolphins is leave them alone. It looks like we can’t do so; yet it’s the best thing to do.
P: According to you, what can bring men and dolphins closer?
R: I am not sure they should be close. There is a natural distance between humans and wild animals. When you go in the jungle or in Africa or to the ocean, wild animals naturally avoid men, they hide themselves. It’s a manner of communication: they tell us something, but we don’t listen. We are too busy trying to get what we want. We have to learn how to respect nature. We think we need to get closer to them, touch them, kiss them, but this is the problem. Why couldn’t we just leave them alone?”
I also found a documentary with a reconstitution of the event of Kathy’s suicide. It’s an old French documentary but I found it interesting because it show us how sensitive dolphins are to stress. After a great shock, they can just let themselves die (some scientists refuse to use the term “suicide”). Indeed, “suicide” would imply that dolphins have a conscience. But there are abundant proofs testifying that they do. One example from the documentary takes us to Brazil where the survival of a small village depends on the help of dolphins. There, each fisherman has his own dolphin. Careful, these dolphins are free dolphins deliberately choosing to help the fishermen for their feeding needs. The question we then ask ourselves is “why”. Why do these animals choose to help men fishing? Dolphins don’t need anyone’s help to fish, why do they decide to help men? Unless they have a conscience…
Some scientists say that dolphins are capable to tell who we really are in ourselves. So it would appear they are capable of determining our needs.
During Ancient Greece, the Greek found the dolphins so different from the other animals that they actually thought they had a soul.
Ric O’Barry clearly points out French facilities with captive cetaceans: Parc Astérix and Marineland. We can also add Planète Sauvage (located in my region), and its 7 dolphins. I actually have a file in which I started gathering information about the 7 dolphins’ characteristics.
I have to say that I listen and read very carefully everything related to Richard O’Barry. Of course, one has to create his own opinion. But I find him wise. I find revolutionary the way he reassesses the notion we call “intelligence” or “communication”. It is true we tend to bring everything to our criterion. As if animals thought the way we do. We are mistaken. Ric O’Barry’s example about butterflies (15th question: What do you think about the dolphins’ intelligence?) is significant. We cannot compare animal intelligence to man intelligence (I will not use the word “human” here, because I believe this word isn’t just relative to men but to every human being.)
I think he very well describes human behaviors towards dolphins. We see them as tools we have to optimize for our own needs and pleasure. But, they are intelligent, social and amazing creatures! In fact, we have to control everything. This is what Ric O’Barry says when he talks about jungle animals we absolutely want to see without caring for their intimacy. Protecting ourselves from lions or other attacks from wild animals in the jungle is one thing; locking them up in a zoo is another one.
From a general point of view, examples are abundant to demonstrate that men can’t always control everything. They can build embankments, they wouldn’t last long during a tsunami for instance. Everything has consequences. Capturing and locking up dolphins too.
One mustn’t criticize too fast. We have to know what we’re talking about.If you are reading this article right now, it’s because somehow, you are interested in the dolphins’ freedom, or by the buzz around dolphinariums. Or because you just saw The Cove.
I am not accusing anyone. I myself went to dolphinariums. I visited Marineland twice (once when I was very very young, and then when I was a teenager). I noticed the difference between dolphins show and orcas show: how we are more joyful while seeing dolphins jumping whereas we were rather impressed by the imposing greatness of orcas. I even went to a job interview in the swimming tank of Planète Sauvage two years ago. The captivity industry is skilled. I indeed saw cetaceans as “acrobatic clowns” without caring about their feelings or their origin. Yet, at that time, I had already been reading many books about them. Let’s just say that my own little experience proves that opinion can change, fast. For me, change was radical. In a short amount of time, anyone can become very implicated in the respect and the freeing of captive animals. I was wrong not so long ago. Today, I do the best I can to spread the word.
It would have taken me to see the movie The Cove and some documentation about it to change my mind. I wish, I hope that this “epiphany” will also awaken others.
However, those who know about how abusive captivity is, and yet keep visiting marine parks or zoos really upset and sadden me.
At the risk of repeating myself at most endings of my articles: spread the word. Make sure everyone knows the truth about captivity. Many achievements show this movement actually means something. Your call to be part of it! 🙂