Dolphin Soldiers

I have to begin this post with two warnings. The first is the obligatory spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen the film, I may reveal some significant plot points. Second, if there is a heart in your chest, The Day of the Dolphin is likely to break it.

Day of the Dolphin movie poster

SEE leaping dolphins! SEE girls in bikinis! SEE George C. Scott… um… gesturing!

On a small private island, Dr. Jake Terrell, played by George C. Scott, is conducting research with a pair of dolphins, but the true nature of his research is a closely held secret. He has taught them to speak English. But dark forces are conspiring to turn this breakthrough in interspecies communication into a weapon. From the opening scenes, it is clear that this is not going to end well.

Dr. Terrell and Alfa

Alpha and his “Pa,” Dr. Terrell.

Although a work of fiction, The Day of the Dolphin is loosely based on real people and events. The character of Dr. Terrell is partially based on Dr. John Lilly, although Dr. Terrell does disparage the kind of invasive neurological experimentation “by other researchers,” in which the real-life Dr. Lilly engaged at one time. Dr. Lilly  failed to establish meaningful communication with his dolphin subjects, but his prediction that dolphins would have value to the military did come to pass.

Here’s a nice piece of vintage U.S. government propaganda:

In The Day of the Dolphin, dolphins are trained to attach explosives to ships. In reality, beginning in the 1960s the United States Navy trained dolphins to retrieve objects, like unexploded torpedoes. Dolphins were also used to assist in clearing mines. And during the Vietnam War, dolphins were used to neutralize enemy divers. According to the Navy, the dolphins did this by attaching a flotation device to the target, causing him to rise to the surface, where he could be captured. However, some former Navy trainers claim that more lethal means were also employed.

At the same time, the Soviet Union had its own military dolphin programs. (Some viewers may find some of this material disturbing.)

Both nations’ militaries continued using dolphins to one extent or another until the present time. And now, it appears that dolphins will be pressed into service again, as tensions between Russia and the Ukraine remain high.

The bleak message of The Day of the Dolphin is that, although scientific research may be conducted with idealistic intentions, the darker aspects of human nature will seek to pervert it for personal gain or to harm others.

For more about the U.S. Navy’s use of dolphins, see Blue Frontier by David Helvarg, Chapter 3 and War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz, Chapter 20.

You can take action by signing this petition.

Readers interested in current research into communication with dolphins–and in the wild, no less–would appreciate Dolphin Diaries by Dr. Denise Herzing.

Navy dolphin leaping in sea pen

How do we justify involving another species in our wars?

REPORT: A Fall From Freedom Screening

AFFF_Screening_Night_LakewoodLong, long, loooooong overdue. The day job helps pay for the work we wish to do on behalf of marine life, but it also often stands in the way of our actually doing it. A welcome day off allows a little time to catch up. So here is our brief report on our public screening of A FALL FROM FREEDOM.

For several months, the FOGG team worked hard to plan, promote, and fundraise for the event. We found a great venue, the Lakewood Theater in east Dallas. And our invitation to appear as guest speaker was graciously accepted by marine mammal expert, Dr. Naomi Rose.

Our evenings and weekends were largely occupied with worrying about whether the event would be a success. Would we be able to raise the money we needed? Would some last second technical glitch derail the whole enterprise? Most importantly, would anyone even show up?

On the evening of 28th March, with a combination of anticipation and apprehension, we arrived at the theater. Wayne, one of the owners, was waiting for us and helped us get set up. And that’s when our potentially disastrous technical failure occurred. For reasons we never could completely understand, the DVD wouldn’t play in the correct aspect ratio. It was squished from the sides into a square. It wouldn’t have been a complete disaster. The show would have gone on, but Wayne kept working on the problem until he came up with a solution.

Our volunteers arrived early to help set up and prepare for the arrival of our audience. Special thanks to all of them: Lance Limer, Leah LeMarier, Joy Benson, Robert Watson, and Marjorie Asturias.

We had sold a few tickets in advance, but I hoped many more would see something going on and check it out. And that actually did happen a couple of times. One woman came in while I happened to be standing in the lobby. She asked what all the fuss was about. When I told her, she walked over to the box office and bought a ticket. By the time the film started, we had about fifty people in the audience. Not the packed house that I had hoped for, but so much better than film screenings I had done in the past.

After some opening remarks, the lights went down and the film started. I’ve seen A FALL FROM FREEDOM several times, but seeing it on a big screen with all these other people was actually kinda thrilling. I hoped it would move some of these people the way it moved me.

Finally, the credits rolled and we took a brief intermission. I urged people to come back for a Q&A with Dr. Rose. More than half of the audience did return and for over an hour, Dr. Rose answered questions on topics ranging from cetacean evolution to so-called “dolphin assisted therapy.” You can see the entire fascinating Q&A session on our YouTube channel. Photos from the event are in the Gallery.

In the end, we met our fundraising goal and were therefore able to donate the ticket sales to our beneficiary, Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project. It wasn’t much, but every little bit helps. And–more importantly–I think we succeeded in raising awareness about the plight of captive cetaceans. And that, after all was our primary mission.

If you haven’t seen the film, you can order the very reasonably-priced DVD or digital download at


Magical Healing Dolphins

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Yesterday morning, NBC’s Today Show ran a story about a sick dolphin who needed surgery to save his life. But this was not just any dolphin. This dolphin is named Sarah, and she lives in a lagoon at Key Largo’s Island Dolphin Care. No, it’s not a dolphin hospital. IDC is a “dolphin therapy” center, where people bring their children to receive magical healing treatments from one of several captive dolphins. Poor Sarah had developed a breathing problem that could become life-threatening. The good news is that she received cutting-edge medical care and is now doing just fine.

The bad news is that “Dolphin Assisted Therapy” just got some new national press. DAT is the controversial use of interaction with captive dolphins to treat a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional ailments and disorders. Proponents of DAT cite hundreds or even thousands of children and adults who seem to have benefited in some way from swimming with these dolphins. “Great,” you say. “What could be wrong with that?” Well, there’s a problem… two, actually.

First, there’s no scientific evidence that it actually works, at least no better than more conventional animal therapies. There are theories about how it might work, ranging from cellular-level effects of the dolphins’ echolocation to mystical dolphin energy. But there’s no science to back it up. In fact, one of the original pioneers of DAT, Dr. Betsy Smith, has denounced the therapy on the grounds that its effectiveness could not be proven and it put at risk two very vulnerable groups: disabled people and captive dolphins.

DAT also plays into the mistaken belief that dolphins are innately gentle and benevolent. Unfortunately, DAT enthusiasts often buy into the mystical dolphin myth and promote the idea that any experience of swimming with dolphins can lift your depression, improve your health, or even raise your consciousness. This article from the Huffington Post is one example.

The second problem is that promoting this idea only serves to increase the demand for dolphin swim experiences, which, in turn, requires more dolphins to do the work. Now, there’s no dolphin factory out there. If you want a dolphin, you have two ways of getting it. You either take it from the wild (Captures are currently illegal in United States waters, but are still carried out on a large scale in many countries, including Japan, Cuba, and the Solomon Islands.) or you trade for or purchase a captive-born dolphin from another facility. Either way, the dolphins don’t apply for the job and they don’t volunteer to be taken away from their families for the rest of their lives.

Now, the Today Show piece was not about the issue of DAT in general, but rather about a sick dolphin whose life was saved so that she could go on “treating” needy humans. But if your brain works like mine, you might have wondered where Sarah the dolphin came from. After watching the segment, I checked Ceta-Base. But I couldn’t find any mention of an “Island Dolphin Care” in Florida. Puzzled, I eventually decided to search for one of the dolphins listed on IDC’s website. “Fonzie” was at the top of the list, and a relatively unusual name. So I tried that. I quickly found him in the search results. But according to Ceta Base, until his unfortunate death in 2004, Fonzie belonged to Dolphins Plus, also in Key Largo. Comparing the names and biographies of the dolphins at Dolphins Plus, with those at Island Dolphin Care, it was obvious that many of them were the same.

So what does this mean? Are Sarah and the others only part-time therapy dolphins, spending the rest of their time making money for the for-profit Dolphins Plus, where swimming with a dolphin will set you back at least $150 per person? Are the dolphins owned by Dolphins Plus and merely on loan to Island Dolphin Care? With both companies claiming them, I had to wonder if the dolphins were pulling double duty. And what exactly is the relationship between these two entities? Whatever the case, two of IDC’s seven dolphins (and two more owned by Dolphins Plus) were, according to Ceta Base, taken from the wild during the 1980s.

Let me be clear, I don’t think the clients of IDC have any wish to harm the dolphins, and the staff and board of directors probably think that their motivations are completely noble. But there are many, many captive dolphin facilities around the world where dolphins are enslaved for the sole purpose of making money, and in my opinion, the false promise of Dolphin Assisted Therapy only serves to legitimize this industry.

Researching Sarah and her living situation has raised more questions than it answered. So I would like to know what you think. Even if it works, is keeping dolphins in captivity justified if it helps a human child have a better life?

Dr. Naomi Rose of HSUS talks about Dolphin Therapy (and other topics)

Here’s a nice mystical dolphin video to raise your vibrations!

Dr. Rose talks about the magical angelic dolphin myth.

Everything I Need to Know (about Saving the Earth), I Learned from Star Trek


So last September, my wife was out of town for a few days, the dogs were spending the night at the doggie day care, and I was taking advantage of the time to get a jump on the online Calculus class I’d signed up for a few weeks before. My mind wanders less when I have some background noise, so I was streaming episodes of the original Star Trek TV series on my laptop. I’ve seen most of those shows hundreds of times over the years, so I wouldn’t be too distracted by them while I tried to reacquaint myself with trigonometry.

But my mind still wandered, mainly to the “Cove” in Taiji, Japan, where the dolphin killing season had recently begun, but also to the beaches of Namibia and the ice floes of Atlantic Canada, where seal pups are mercilessly slaughtered every year. I thought about dying sharks lying helpless at the bottom of the ocean, discarded after having their fins cut off for the sake of a bowl of bland soup. And I was haunted by pictures I had just seen of majestic manta rays, taken from the ocean for the myth that their gill rakers can be used to cure just about any ailment.

I’ve been trying to get the word out about issues such as these for the last couple of years. But I was already starting to think that my information tables at the usual green/vegan/animal events just wasn’t enough. Preaching to the choir. I had to find a way to reach a wider audience.


What is the limit of a function? Is it continuous? How do I use this graphing calculator?! My eyes were crossing. Then I heard these words: “If it is the only survivor of a dead race, to kill it would be a crime against science.” I clicked the Netflix tab in my internet browser to see what I was missing. An unseen creature had been killing off workers in a mining settlement on an alien world and the U.S.S. Enterprise had been called to investigate. In this scene, Mr. Spock, the Vulcan science officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, was commenting on a plan to hunt down and destroy it. The words struck me like a lightning bolt. It seemed so obvious…

For my whole life, Star Trek has been a strong influence. In fact, my earliest memory is of watching the show on television. The power of Star Trek has always been in its ability to present social issues of the present day (the 1960s) in ways that made them seem possible to solve. War, overpopulation, racism, sexism. How would we relate to alien civilizations? In this particular episode, our heroes are presented with a creature that is extremely dangerous and, unlike many of the alien races seen in science fiction, so physically different from humans that we would find it difficult to relate to it. In the end, Mr. Spock establishes communication and negotiates a mutually beneficial peace.

Humpback_tumblr_m58wh2Cbi11rwfi1wo1_1280Now completely distracted from my studies, within a few hours I had the beginnings of a plan and a name for my new non-profit organization. “Friends of George and Gracie” is a reference to the two humpback whales who played a critical role in the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In the film, the Earth is doomed to watery destruction in the 23rd century unless the crew of the starship Enterprise can resurrect an extinct species of whale by traveling back in time to the late 20th century (before we hunted them all into oblivion). The concept of the film was brilliant—we need the whales to save us! In fact, we really do need a healthy ocean to survive. As just one example, although the rainforests get all the attention, the vast majority of the oxygen we breathe is produced by phytoplankton in the ocean.

So, great idea, but how can I use it? Although no one can say exactly how many Star Trek fans there are, it’s safe to say that there are millions. They come from all walks of life—a wide variety of religions, political parties, sexual orientations, socio-economic classes. An episode of Star Trek or one of the eleven films is on television somewhere around the world every hour of the day, and there are fan clubs in dozens of different countries. Although there plenty of people who enjoy the show in a casual way, many fans find great inspiration in Star Trek and its vision of a better future, in which the human race has overcome many of the problems that plague us today. In fact, from the beginning, Star Trek fan clubs have included a public service component. These people believe in a brighter future and wish to play a part in making it happen.

If I can tap into this enthusiasm, perhaps I can get all kinds of new people to start thinking about protecting and respecting the ocean. So with a small, but growing, team of volunteers, we’re taking our message to the Star Trek conventions, Comic-cons, and Sci-fi expos. We’re designing a line of T-shirts that we hope will appeal to this audience, as well.


But the Star Trek angle is only part of the story. I’m a strong believer in the power of film to move the spirit. So I intend to hold design_1.2_8x11screenings of films about our ocean in actual movie theaters to attract a general audience.

Our first event is a screening of A Fall From Freedom on 28 March 2013 at the Lakewood Theater in Dallas, TX. This 2011 documentary exposes the cruelty of the captive dolphin industry. Tickets are on sale now, and the profits will benefit Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project. If you’re in the North Texas area, we hope you’ll join us for the film and a Q&A with Humane Society’s Senior Scientist, Dr. Naomi Rose. But if you can’t make it to the screening and still wish to help, we still need donations to help pay for the event. Donating is easy and secure through PayPal. Any amount is greatly appreciated.


Whatever your feelings about Mr. Spock, we hope you’ll join our mission, because


Our Future Needs the Ocean.



A Fall From Freedom screening:

Our Fundraising page:

“A FALL FROM FREEDOM” Film Screening in Dallas, TX

Fall from Freedom Trailer – Show Dolphins Are Blood Dolphins from Friends of George and Gracie on Vimeo.


The award-winning film, “The Cove” shocked the world by exposing the brutal slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. “A Fall From Freedom” goes further and explains how the captive dolphin display industry fuels the slaughter in Taiji and elsewhere and challenges us to consider whether it is still acceptable to keep these animals in captivity.


Friends of George and Gracie are very pleased to announce that Dr. Naomi Rose, senior scientist for Humane Society International, has made time in her busy schedule to join us for this event. After the film, she will take questions from the audience.


Dr. Rose’s qualifications are too numerous to fully describe here. She is one of the leading experts on whales and whaling, as well as dolphin watching and captivity and other marine mammal issues. Dr. Rose is also a wonderfully powerful speaker. Please don’t miss this rare opportunity.


Tickets are available through the Lakewood Theater’s website:


Ticket sales will benefit Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project and Earth Island Institute.


Doors open at 6:30 and the film will begin at 7:30pm.