Richard O'Barry has a unique calling. "If there's a dolphin anywhere in the world that's in trouble," he says, "my phone rings." Through a combination of techniques that include undercover operations and negotiations with hunters, governments, and dolphin-exhibiting businesses, O'Barry has rescued dolphins in the Bahamas, Nicaragua, Brazil, and the United States, among other places, animals that have been abused in squalid aquariums, unfiltered tanks, and concrete pools that are the marine mammal equivalent of padded cells.
His passion to protect these animals from commercial dolphin shows and swim-with-a-dolphin resort programs (a healthy dolphin can sell for more than $200,000) began 40 years ago, after O'Barry, then head trainer at the Miami Seaquarium, was hired for the television show Flipper. As it happens, the title role was played by five bottlenose dolphins, one of whom ultimately swam into O'Barry's arms, looked up at him, and stopped breathing. It was such a deliberate act that he believed it to be suicide. Today, as a result of that experience, he's the ultimate dolphin freedom fighter.
The world got a moving look at his mission in last spring's Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove, which chronicles O'Barry's determination to end a secret dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. In the movie, O'Barry faces off with local fishermen and fishery officials, who call their annual cull of up to 23,000 dolphins "pest control." Using hidden cameras, The Cove revealed the truth—that most are gaffed with metal spears and die slow, frantic deaths; a smaller number are herded into pens to be sold. "Once you see this movie, you're gonna think twice before you buy a ticket to a dolphin show," O'Barry says.
At 70, O'Barry remains tireless in his defense of one of the ocean's most intelligent creatures, roaming the Earth to help them. His ultimate hope is simple: "Basically, I would like to be put out of business. That's my goal."
To find out more, go to SaveJapanDolphins.org. — Susan Casey
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