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Former 'Flipper' trainer says animal parks such as SeaWorld provide a 'bad education' to visitors

March 3, 2010 |  2:01 pm

Dolphins

In wake of the tragedy at SeaWorld in Orlando, our colleague Steve Lopez wondered if he had been a bad father by taking his daughter to the marine animal park in San Diego. "Did I really want her to think that wild animals exist for our amusement," Lopez pondered in his column Wednesday morning, "or that it's OK to ride a killer whale as if it were a pony?"

So Lopez asked a few experts, namely, his marine biologist cousin, San Diego SeaWorld spokesman Dave Koontz and Ric O'Barry, a dolphin expert who is also one of the first animal trainers to work with killer whales in a show.

Although Koontz told Lopez that visitors to marine animal parks receive "a greater appreciation for these animals and the ocean environments they live in," O'Barry, who can be seen in the Oscar-nominated documentary "The Cove" disagrees, calling it a "bad education."

"There's no connection between conservation and stupid dolphin tricks," O'Barry told Lopez.

Not only that, but O'Barry claims that because big mammals such as orcas and dolphins have no privacy in environments like SeaWorld, they can often do violent things, sometimes to others, as we have seen with Tilikum, or sometimes to themselves. O'Barry, who as a young man captured and trained dolphins for the classic TV show "Flipper," believes that one of the dolphins committed suicide by refusing to come up for air.

-- Tony Pierce

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Photo: Ric O'Barry looks at dolphins in a tank at the Whales Museum during a 2009 trip to Taiji, Japan. Credit: Junji Kurokawa / Associated Press

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