When you visit a dolphinarium, such as the 'Seas with Nemo and Friends' pavilion at Disney's Epcot park, it's hard to see the problem: music is blaring, children are screaming and laughing and smiling, seemingly 'happy' dolphins are swimming around inside of the tank interacting with the trainer on the other side of the glass.
Most park visitors are distracted and too busy to pause and ask vital questions about these dolphins, like:
Where did they come from?
Although it seems to be a popular belief, not all of the Epcot dolphins were born and raised in captivity.
In fact, the dolphins who have lived and died at Disney- the happiest place on Earth- seem to tell a different story.
According to my research in, 1985, Jay Sweeny and staff members from Epcot worked together to trap a pod of dolphins swimming off the coast of Florida (near Fort Myers), enclosing the animals in a net.
The crew selected the dolphins- five, young individuals, later named Katie, Christie, Tyke,Toby and Bob (as well as another named Geno, also captured around the same time) -and pulled them away from the rest of their family pod, loading them into their boat.
All five of these dolphins are now dead.
(Footage below is an excerpt from "A Fall From Freedom", showing Jay Sweeny and Epcot crew capturing wild dolphins for Epcot)
Katie was the last dolphin to die at Epcot in August of 1990, and was the fourth out of the six dolphins at Disney to die over a five year span.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that "The first animal to die, a four-year-old male named Geno, became trapped in a pool net at Epcot and suffocated. Geno died in December 1985, less than a year after being captured, according to fisheries service records."
Then a little over a year later...
"Two animals died within three days of each other after being injured in October 1987. A 9-year-old female died of a brain hemorrhage and a 6-year-old male died after it's vertebrae were fractured."
One of the dolphins at Epcot- Bob -was blamed for the death of Katie and a few other dolphins
"An aggressive male poolmate named Bob roughhoused 12-year-old Katie, worsening her lung condition and leading to her death, preliminary test results show,"
Bob was believed to be in his 20s when he died.
Katie was 12.
Geno was only four when he died.
Two others died at the ages of 6 and 9.
In the wild, dolphins can live up to 40 and 50 years of age.
The move angered dolphin freedom activists, who say Congress ordered their release to the wild now that they aren't needed for the Navy's secret strategic programs.
"It's continued abuse of the animals on tax dollars and a flagrant violation of the congressional mandate," said Rick Trout, a former Navy dolphin trainer who works as an activist for the animals. "Congress cares more about the dolphins than the Navy or Epcot does."
Ric O'Barry of the Dolphin Freedom Foundation agreed.
"These conscripted dolphins were supposed to be sent home with an honorable discharge," he said.
Navy spokesman Tom LaPuzza acknowledged the orders, but said the Navy doesn't have the budget for years of re-training to get the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins ready for life in the wild."
Today, four male dolphins are held captive at Disney's Epcot park, Ranier (captured from the wild), Khyber (Keebler), Calvin and Malabar.
Will they continue to live stressful, unnatural lives at Disney World? Will they die premature, avoidable deaths there?
It's up to you: Tell Disney to set them free! Click here.
Thank you to Jordan Waltz for providing info
Photographs by Henning Christoph
Photographs by Henning Christoph