Flipper trainer turns turtle

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

MOST people credit Flipper, the dolphin who could communicate unfolding disasters with a swish of her tail, with being responsible for creating the lovable impression we all have of dolphins, writes Rhys Williams.

But Richard O'Barry, the man who trained five Flippers and is campaigning in Britain with an animal rights group, the Born Free Foundation, believes the television series of the same name was the single biggest factor in cruelty to captive dolphins.

'There is no question that Flipper was the primary reason that capturing dolphins became a billion-dollar industry,' he said yesterday. 'It was both the best and worst thing that happened to dolphins and I feel a certain responsibility. Now I'm doing something about it.'

On 22 April 1972, the dolphin that he considered to be the original Flipper - her real name was Kathy - stopped breathing while he held her at Miami Seaquariam. Mr O'Barry says she committed suicide. He embarked on a mission to return all captive dolphins to the wild. During the past 20 years, he has been instrumental in releasing nine animals, including one from Brazil last March.

'Dolphins are not mistreated, it's the captivity itself that's cruel,' Mr O'Barry explained. 'You end up with creatures which rely on sound with a bucket over their heads. It used to be that spectators just watched the dolphins do their tricks, but now they pay dollars 85 (pounds 57) to get in the pool for a 'hands-on experience'. You know what that is? It's prostitution.'

Halliwell's Television Companion considers the plots of Flipper, which tells the everyday story of how a boy befriends dolphin, 'a bit strained'. There was always something a mite contrived about dialogue which ran: 'Click, click, click. What? A plane has crashed, 20 dead, 50 survivors? Click, click, click. At Red Beard Cove, 30 miles south-west of here? (Frantic pointing of the fin) Sorry, north-west of here.'