Dolphin 'therapy' a dangerous fad, Emory researchers warn

Dec 18, 2007

People suffering from chronic mental or physical disabilities should not resort to a dolphin "healing" experience, warn two researchers from Emory University. Lori Marino, senior lecturer in the Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology Program, has teamed with Scott Lilienfeld, professor in the Department of Psychology, to launch an educational campaign countering claims made by purveyors of what is known as dolphin-assisted therapy (DAT).

"Dolphin-assisted therapy is not a valid treatment for any disorder," says Marino, a leading dolphin and whale researcher. "We want to get the word out that it's a lose-lose situation Ð for people and for dolphins."

While swimming with dolphins may be a fun, novel experience, no scientific evidence exists for any long-term benefit from DAT, Marino says. She adds that people who spend thousands of dollars for DAT don't just lose out financially Ð they put themselves, and the dolphin, at risk of injury or infection. And they are supporting an industry that Ð outside of the United States Ð takes dolphins from the wild in a brutal process that often leaves several dolphins dead for every surviving captive.

Marino and Lilienfeld 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."

"We found that all five studies were methodologically flawed and plagued by several threats to both internal and construct validity," wrote Marino and Lilienfeld, who conducted a similar review in 1998. "We conclude that nearly a decade following our initial review, there remains no compelling evidence that DAT is a legitimate therapy, or that it affords any more than fleeting improvements in mood."

An upcoming issue of the newsletter of the American Psychological Association's Division of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities will feature another article by Marino and Lilienfeld, entitled "Dolphin-Assisted Therapy for Autism and Other Developmental Disorders: A Dangerous Fad."

"We want to reach psychologists with this message, because DAT is increasingly being applied to children with developmental disabilities, although there is no good evidence that it works," said Lilienfeld, a clinical psychologist. "It's hard to imagine the rationale for a technique that, at best, makes a child feel good in the short run, but could put the child at risk of harm."

The Emory scientists have timed their campaign to coincide with a recent call by two UK-based non-profits Ð the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and Research Autism Ð to ban the practice of DAT.

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 Ð 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.

Dolphins are bred in captivity in U.S. marine parks, but in other countries they 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, she says. "The marine parks make millions off of dolphins, so that's a drop in the bucket. It's an irony that dolphins are among the most beloved, and the most exploited, animals in the world," Marino says.

Source: Emory University

Explore further: Is head CT overused in emergency departments?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Microsoft profit dips as revenue rises (Update)

9 hours ago

Microsoft on Monday reported that its quarterly profit dipped but revenue increased in a sign that it is adapting to lifestyles centered on mobile devices and cloud services.

Black hole chokes on a swallowed star

10 hours ago

A five-year analysis of an event captured by a tiny telescope at McDonald Observatory and followed up by telescopes on the ground and in space has led astronomers to believe they witnessed a giant black hole ...

Montana oil spill estimate lowered to 30,000 gallons

11 hours ago

Authorities have lowered their estimate of how much oil spilled from a broken pipeline beneath the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana, briefly contaminating the water supply of a city downstream.

Recommended for you

Is head CT overused in emergency departments?

16 hours ago

Less than 7.1% of patients presenting to the emergency department with dizziness and 6.4% complaining of syncope or near-syncope benefited from head CT say researchers at Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Honolulu. The use of ...

Medical radiation may be reduced to one-sixth

18 hours ago

One of this century's most significant mathematical discoveries may reduce the number of measuring points to one-sixth of the present level. This means reduced exposure to radiation and faster medical imaging ...

The 'fifth taste,' umami, could be beneficial for health

Jan 25, 2015

The umami taste could have an important and beneficial role in health, according to research published in the open access journal Flavour. The journal's special series of articles 'The Science of Taste' also finds that ' ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.