There are some really weird therapies out there on the lunatic fringe. One of these strange alternative therapies is "Dolphin 'therapy," and it has recently been called a dangerous fad by Emory University researchers who warn us that not only is this a fraud being perpetrated on people who are often quite ill, the practice mistreats these animals who have no desire to be rounded up and used as "therapy" for humans.
These Emory scientsts say that people suffering from chronic mental or physical disabilities should not resort to a dolphin-assisted therapy experience, or what is often referred to as DAT. "Dolphin-assisted therapy is not a valid treatment for any disorder," says Lori Marino, a leading dolphin and whale researcher. "We want to get the word out that it's a lose-lose situation, both for people and for dolphins."
Doesn't swimming with dolphins sound like a great thing to do, and possiblly even therapeutic? However, no scientific evidence exists for any benefit from DAT. People who spend thousands of dollars for DAT don't just lose out financially, they put themselves, and the dolphin, at risk of injury or infection. And they are supporting an industry that takes dolphins from the wild in a brutal process that often leaves several dolphins dead for every surviving captive.
Marino her colleagues at Emory reviewed five studies published during the past eight years and found that the claims for efficacy for DAT were invalid. Their conclusions were published recently in Anthrozošs, the journal of the International Society for Anthrozoology, in a paper entitled "Dolphin-Assisted Therapy: More Flawed Data and More Flawed Conclusions."
While Marino is against taking dolphins from the wild and holding them captive for any purpose, she finds DAT especially egregious, because the people who are being exploited are the most vulnerable--including desperate parents who are willing to try anything to help a child with a disability. Many people are under the impression that dolphins would never harm a human. "In reality, injury is a very real possibility when you place a child in a tank with a 400-pound wild animal that may be traumatized from being captured," Marino says.
In some countries dolphins are often taken from the wild. "If people knew how these animals were captured, I don't think they would want to swim with them in a tank or participate in DAT," Marino says, referring to an annual "dolphin drive" in Japan. "During the dolphin drives hundreds of animals are killed, or panicked and die of heart attacks, in water that's red with their blood, while trainers from facilities around the world pick out young animals for their marine parks. They hoist them out of the water, sometimes by their tail flukes, and take them away." Each live dolphin can bring a fisherman $50,000 or more.
Dolphins appear to be one of the most loved--and most exploited--animals in the world.