Animal activist Richard O’Barry made a promise to help any dolphin in trouble anywhere in the world, when he was featured in the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove.”
So it came as no surprise that he jumped on a plane to Jakarta after he received a call about 72 dolphins being abused in traveling dolphin shows.
They asked O’Barry who is a marine mammal specialist to help rescue the dolphins and release them back into their natural habitat in the open sea.
Similar to the Japanese whale hunts that claim the animals are needed for research, the institutions that caught the bottlenose and spinner dolphins in Indonesia use a loophole in the law that allows their captivity if they are needed for conservation, education and therapy.
JAAN called for O’Barry’s help after they conducted a study about the captive dolphins in the traveling shows and received reports of abuse from the public.
The group wants O’Barry to oversee the building of a 90-square-meter sea pen in the Karimun Jawa National Park where the rescued dolphins can be rehabilitated and eventually returned to the open waters. The sea pen would be the largest “aquatic mammal” rehab center ever constructed.
“Traveling dolphin shows are the most abusive shows in the world. They’ve been outlawed in other countries. When moving between cities, the dolphins are confined in small tanks, which is very stressful for mammals that normally travel about 40 miles a day. The conditions are even worse than those experienced by animals in zoos, since dolphins are very sensitive to sound and lose their sonar ability when confined in a small space,” said O’Barry.
The dolphin shows are a multi-billion dollar industry in Indonesia.“That is why there are such shows, they pay taxes to the government, and the government supports them. That’s the problem,” said O’Barry.
O’Barry has spent the past 40 years rescuing dolphins and raising public awareness about what really happens to them in captivity. But initially his career had him on other side of the issue as a dolphin trapper and trainer.
He became famous during the 1960′s as the trainer for the dolphins used on the television series, “Flipper.” O’Barry calls himself “young and foolish” during this period. He changed his objective after a dolphin named Kathy, who was one of five dolphins used in the show, died in his arms.
O’Barry doesn’t believe any of the so-called educational shows or therapy programs using dolphins are worth the amount of suffering they cause the animals. He calls all of them money-making fads that are cruel to the dolphins and show very little scientific benefit to humans.
Meanwhile the rescue of the 72 dolphins in Jakarta has been disappointing. Their first rescue of 3 dolphins was cancelled by the government.
The delay is making O’Barry very impatient, but he said the problem was not uncommon since dolphin shows are usually “backed by affluent people with powerful connections.”
“Right now, those dolphins are on death row. Putting them back in nature is not a science project but it is the right thing to do,” he said. “They need us to leave them alone. That’s what we need to do. Leave them alone,” said O’Barry.
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