For years, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) has been trying to persuade Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) to halt plans to bring 27 dolphins fished from the waters of the Solomon Islands. Two have since died from a bacterial infection and the stress of transportation. Here in Singapore by invitation of ACRES, dolphin activists, Richard “Ric” O’Barry requested to meet and engage the Chief Executive Officer of RWS in a public dialogue but his request was declined, ruffling the feathers of the public and raising many more questions.
At first glance, O’Barry seems tired and weary. Not the man millions of people saw, full of vigour in the documentary film, The Cove. But can we blame him? Flying in from Thailand where he was fighting against dolphin aquariums. He regrettably tells us that 11 days ago, one of the captive dolphins there had died. Before that, he was in Taiji, Japan where Mother Nature has not allowed the annual dolphin hunting season to start on time. On closer observation, I notice that O’ Barry rarely looks in my direction save for a couple of times. A habit we notice taking place during many interviews and YouTube videos. Could it be possible the man who has braved murderous whalers actually does not like the filming lens? Whatever it is, one cannot discount what he has to say; there is so much we can learn from the man who has been on both sides of the fence, both as a dolphin trainer for the television series, Flipper and of course, The Cove.
We heard that your request to see the CEO of RWS was declined. Is this a replay from many corporate types previously?
Richard: No. In fact, it is only the very rich, arrogant and rude ones that do so. I wish I could give you an example of a positive response but I do not know of one. I had previously sent Mr. Tan Hee Teck emails on five separate accounts, requesting that they consider taking the dolphins back to the Solomon Islands and setting them free. I also added that such actions will be an example for young people, especially the hundreds of thousands watching this. It would be a windfall of positive publicity for Resorts World and for Singapore. However it seems they do not want to hear of it [Shows actions of covering his ears and eyes]
The constant glare of the limelight is on you, whether it was for the Flipper series or your fight for the welfare of dolphins. What keeps you going?
Progress. If I did not see any, I would have dropped out. You have to have some sort of a positive movement at some point. I see it in the Solomon Islands where they have been killing dolphins for 450 years but have since stopped this practice. If a tradition spanning hundreds of years can be reversed, Resorts World can stop harming dolphins as well.
The Cove made such an impression all over the world and you have chronicled the second part in the show Blood Dolphin TV for Discovery’s Animal Planet. Do you think there is a need for another film to be made?
The Blood Dolphin TV show is actually produced by my son, Lincoln (O’ Barry). We have already shot two episodes with three more in the pipeline. He is also doing a new feature film, a drama, based on my life. Hopefully, that film will create as many, if not, more activists for the cause. The Cove created armies of them so I am hoping to garner more.
How do you feel about the activists here in Singapore?
I have met with many good activists at ACRES, an outstanding organisation. They are the real deal and I am here to support their efforts.
How much has the world changed since the release of The Cove?
It is difficult for me to say as I have been constantly travelling and running around the place. It has been a whirlwind of interviews in Bangkok, talking to foreign correspondents and blogging about Japan. The Cove has won more awards than any documentary film in history; translating into many seeing it and taking action. That is all good but I really do not know the details so far. It is like when you throw a rock into the water and see the ripple effect. Instead of watching the ripple effect, I have been focusing my efforts in Taiji, Japan.
In 1996, two dolphins which were supposedly released by you were later found injured and begging for food from boaters. They seemed not ready for the wild. What do you think?
Oh, yes. The dolphins trained by the US Navy. This has been constantly on my mind and I will send you a statement regarding this due to constraints of time.
*pets magazine received an e-mail the next day with an article written by journalist David Higgs, chronicling events that supposedly happened but was not picked up by mainstream media.
Should there come a day when the majority of dolphin species are endangered, would your stance on captivity change? Why or why not?
Definitely. It depends on the situation. I was actually involved in the conservation of the Baiji dolphins (also known as Yangtze River dolphins) through its breeding programme. However, it seems that we failed as we started too late.
Tell us more about your family and what they think about your work that is known worldwide?
My son, Lincoln (O’ Barry) is a show producer while I have a seven-year old daughter adopted from China. It can get quite tough as I have not seen them for months now. Skype is like my most important tool of communication with them.
Do you own any pets of your own?
Not officially. But I have two cats living below my house that we feed and care for. It seems that they have adopted us as their owners. (laughs)
From here onwards, what are your plans for 2012?
So far, I am excited for is to receive an honouree award for my work at the Bambi 2012 Awards. It is one of the biggest award shows in Germany with a live broadcast. Now, we all know how ‘dangerous’ I can be on live television. But this is a great opportunity to spread the message, and of course, a great honour.
What is your personal message to animal lovers out there?
Simple. Don’t buy tickets to dolphin shows. We can shut the whole thing down tomorrow if everyone stops.