Our love affair with dolphins began with 'Flipper' and ended in a multi-million dollar industry of abuse. From the dazzling sea shows where dolphins are driven to suicide, to an annual dolphin slaughter in a small cove in Japan, 'Saving Flipper' reveals the nightmare behind the dolphin's indelible smile.
"Dolphins smile whilst they're dying too",
says Flipper trainer Ric O'Barry. At the Sealanya sea show, a dolphin majestically arcs through the air. The crowd is enthralled, and a small boy squeals with delight: "dolphins can do such funny tricks!"
But starvation is the only way to teach tricks to a dolphin. And once the crowd is gone, the dolphins' work begins. Chlorine-poisoning, pneumonia and other stress-related illnesses slowly claim their lives. And the trainers go back to the capture zone and buy look-alikes.
"That was definitely on my 'things to do before I die' list!"
, an excited young women says, emerging from a pool full of dolphins. Covered in scars from human contact, and kept in a small holding pool, it's unlikely that her dolphin returns the sentiment. "They can't exercise, swim properly, or portray a normal range of behaviour",
says dolphin expert 'Yunus', "not being able to communicate through sonar is a great source of stress"
. Yet thousands of individuals still pay 500-1000 euros to swim with dolphins, whether they're looking for a temporary rush, a connection, or even a cure...
"Berrak couldn't even stand up before she swam with the dolphins",
says the mother of a little girl with cerebral palsy. But for several years, a group of leading marine experts have tried to shut 'Dolphin Assisted Therapy' down. "If there is no published scientific evidence about a practice and yet it is still being implemented in return of money then we can suspect an exploitation"
. Urban folklore suggests that dolphins have a special interest in mentally or physically disabled people. But in reality, their eyes are always on the fish bucket.
"They are earning their living here just as you are",
defends the owner of a Sea Zoo. Yet it's a living the dolphins have been brutally captured into: "we have permission to hunt them. We won't stop as long as the money is there",
says one of the fishermen in Taiji, Japan. Dolphin capture has operated in this isolated cove for 400 years, and over 20 000 dolphins die here every year. Some die from the brutal capture process, others are killed for meat because they don't make the 'show dolphin' grade. But the waters of Taiji are always red.
An unflinching investigation, which dives deep into each aspect of the global dolphin industry.
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Official Selection, Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival, 2010