Subject: Am. Issues: Dolphin therapy ex (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Wed, 28 Aug 1996 14:23:40 -0400 (EDT)

J. Michael Williamson
   Wheelock College
   Principal Investigator-WhaleNet <>
   Associate Professor-Science
voice: 617.734.5200, ext. 256
fax:    617.566.7369


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 28 Aug 96 11:17:00 GMT 
Subject: Am. Issues: Dolphin therapy ex

Am. Issues: Dolphin therapy examined

   CLEARWATER, Fla. (UPI) -- An Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, blind in one
eye, is helping a Florida boy learn to live with a hyperactive disorder.
   Although both appear to be enjoying the process, dolphin activists
including the national Humane Society don't think it's a good idea.
   Brian is one of four children enrolled in the Clearwater Marine
Aquarium's "Full Circle Program," a marine animal-assisted therapy
program, run by Marianne Klingel.
   "Animals are wonderful therapy partners," she said. "They offer
unconditional love and acceptance, which are especially meaningful to a
child who's aware of being 'different'."
   The not-for-profit aquarium which also serves as a dolphin rescue
agency has been operating in a reclaimed water filtration plant since
1972, although the therapy program began just four years ago.
   A staff of 15 and more than 100 volunteers care for sick or injured
marine creatures with the aim of releasing them back to the wild.
   The aquarium also assists and monitors endangered sea turtles and
their nests. It has several displays of mangroves and a shallow water
touch-display with de-barbed stingrays and crabs.
   The most popular resident is Sunset Sam, a teenaged bottlenose who
was rescued from a stranding. He is blind in his right eye, and has a
liver disorder, so will never be released. There are also two orphaned
North American river otters who are popular with visitors.
   The therapy program takes four children with special needs for three
months, and Klingel said they are drawn to different animals for
different reasons.
   A recent 8-year-old graduate, Kyle, lost his limbs to meningitis.
Although he worked with several animals, Klingel said he was drawn to
"Stumpy," a sea turtle who lost two flippers to a boat propeller.
   The facility does not use in-water therapy sessions with Sunset Sam.
   But handicapped children do swim with dolphins at the Dolphin
Research Center in Grassy Key, north of Key West.
   Spokeswoman Dana Carnegie said the Grassy Key program began in 1982
as a research project into whether interaction with dolphins could
improve cognitive ability in children afflicted with Down's syndrome,
attention deficit disorders and hydrocephalus.
   "We found when combining dolphin interaction with other therapies,
kids were responding 2 to 10 times more often than in classrooms,"
Carnegie said.
   Another experimental program is slated to start in September, in
conjunction with the Upledger Foundation of Palm Beach Gardens,
involving cranio-sacral therapy for those with skull or spinal injuries.
Carnegie said it would the first time the two rehabilitation disciplines
would be coupled.
   The not-for-profit facility has 17 dolphins and also offers a limited
swim program to the public for $90.
   While there is no therapy program under way at present, Carnegie said
the center makes swims available virtually anytime to terminally ill
children through suchgroups as the Make A Wish Foundation and the
Children's Last Wish Society.
   However, no one enters the water until completing an orientation
   "Our swim sessions are choreographed -- the dolphins respond to hand
signals," Carnegie said. "(Dolphins) are very rough. When they play
among themselves, there's body slamming and teeth raking, which is not
appropriate with people."
   Dolphin Assisted Therapy is not considered valid by all.
   Naomi Rose, Marine Mammal Scientist with the Humane Society of the
United States in Washington said HSUS "strongly disapproves" of any
swim programs, therapeutic or not.
   "I'm not denying there's probably therapeutic value to interacting
with these animals, but there's also therapeutic value in interaction
with puppies, kittens, goats and sheep," Rose said. "These animals
should not be exploited."
   The holder of a Ph.D. in biology, Rose said there were 18 reported
injuries to people by dolphins between 1989 and 1994.
   She herself bears a scar from an encounter in 1982 when she was in
the water, working as a research assistant in Hawaii.
   "I was attacked by two dolphins -- they didn't like me," she said,
adding she sustained a broken rib from a body slam, and long scratches
on her leg from being raked by teeth.
   "You're a fool if you think they're incapable of harm," she said.
   One thing Rose and therapists at both Florida facilities agreed on
was the danger inherent in a belief held by some that dolphins possess a
"magic" or healing power.
   "They're animals, and as much as I hate to say it, simply a tool in
therapy, just as Hudson, our resident Golden Retriever is," said
Klingel of the Clearwater aquarium.
   Carnegie agreed, and related a recent swim by a child missing one
   "The dolphin came up to him and waited for him to grab his dorsal
fin for a ride. But you could see the dolphin look, realize there was no
arm on that side, and he moved to the side with an arm."
   Another point all three parties agreedon was that no more dolphins
should be captured from the wild. Rose of the HSUS said there
approximately 400 captive dolphins in the U.S., and the majority of them
were born in captivity, or were rescued and cannot be released due to
medical conditions.
   As word of their role in various therapies spreads, Rose is concerned
by the fascination it triggers.
   "It's a curse. I wish people weren't fascinated by dolphins because
it's killing them," she said. "There's a significant problem --
particularly in FLorida -- of people feeding wild dolphins.
   "Most people aren't aware that's illegal under the Marine Mammal
Protection Act."
   Carnegie of the Keys center said that was another argument against
the widespread release of captive dolphins.
   "There was a case recently where two were released illegally by a
man in the Keys running a roadside exhibit," she said. "They had no
survival skills, and wergging boaters for fish. One of them is here
   Meanwhile, Sunset Sam is due tomake another set of four young
friends in Clearwater as the present semester's children are graduating.