Sunday, May 31, 2009

Flipper commits suicide

Life in Hollywood is hard on animals, but as we saw above, life after Hollywood can be even harder; it is that which drives much animal rights opposition to the animal film business. It can even make converts of those actually in the business. When I interviewed the Flipper trainer Ric O'Barry for my KPFK radio show, he told me about his lat moments with Kathy, the lead dolphin in the role of Flipper. He explained that unlike other mammals, dolphins are not automatic breathers; every breath is a conscious choice, and when life becomes unbearable they can choose to take no more. They commit suicide. He says that muc of the early morality rate of dolphins in captivity is a result of suicide: "We literally bore them to death."

Ric said that when the Flipper series ended, the dolphins were simply warehoused. Kathy was kept alone in a tank. O'Barry left for India, where he did some soul-searching, and started to feel strongly that what he had been doing to the dolphins was wrong. When he returned from India, he heard that Kathy was sick and went to see her. He found her alone in a tank, with blisters all over her back from the sun. As I interviewed him about Kathy, he got too choked up to talk about it, but on a video made by the Dolphin Project he described her final moments:

She swam right over into my arms, looked me in the eye, took a deep breath, and never took another one. I let her go and she sank very slowly to the bottom of the tank.

He describes jumping into the tank, attempting to revive her, realizing it was too late, and crying,

'My God, what have I done?'

He tells us,

Kathy was an enormously clever and bright creature, who, when there was no use for Flipper, for Kathy, had been consigned to a tank to die. And die she did, with me weeping for having done this horrible thing to her.

The above is from Karen Dawn's Thanking The Monkey: Rethinking The Way We Treat Animals (pp. 84-85). The book, published in April 2008, is the perfect read for the summer offering substance in a lively, readable manner. The book is both a resource and a conversation starter. Strongly recommended.

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