The former trainer of Flipper the dolphin is to spearhead an international campaign against Western sea- life parks that, he claims, are subsidising brutal dolphin hunting in Japan.
More than 20,000 whales and dolphins are killed along Japan's coastline every year but the most notorious of the hunts is the "drive fishery" near the village of Taiji. Fewer than 30 fishermen are behind an annual hunt in which dolphins are chased into shallow waters and then stabbed to death. The few that are spared are then sold on to the highest bidder.
"Leading aquariums and swim-with-dolphin dealers are subsidising the Japan dolphin slaughter by paying £25,000 or more for a few 'show' dolphins from the catch," said Ric O'Barry, a former US Navy diver who trained the dolphin star of the 1960s television series before turning against dolphin captivity in 1970.
Ocean World Adventure Park - a million-pound tourist resort in the Dominican Republic where visitors spend more than £60 a time to swim with captive dolphins - has placed a £300,000 order for 12 bottlenose dolphins. The dolphins, dubbed the "Taiji 12", were taken in what he says is one of the most violent and brutal captures that he has ever seen.
A report released last year by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society reveals that dozens of dolphins captured in Japan's annual "drive fisheries" - and then spared - have ended up in aquariums around the world.
Few animals beat the box-office appeal of dolphins, and their price has shot up since the days of Flipper, when they sold for less than £200 each. There has been an explosion in dolphin attractions, particularly in the US and the Caribbean, and trained dolphins now fetch up to £50,000 each.
But animal rights activists argue that the basic needs of dolphins cannot be met in captivity and that they suffer extreme physical and mental distress, which can result in aggressive behaviour, as well as a lower survival rate and higher infant mortality than their wild counterparts.
The death of Flipper, cradled in his arms, was a turning point in Ric O'Barry's life. "She just seemed to give up on living," he said. "At that moment I realised that what I had been doing was wrong and decided to dedicate my life to getting dolphins back to the wild where they belong."Reuse content