What Happened to Flipper the Dolphin

Before the TV series, there was a movie called Flipper(1963). It was about a 12-year-old boy who befriends an injured Dolphin or Porpoise. What 12-year-old boy wouldn’t want to live in the Florida Keys and have a Dolphin or a Porpoise for a pet? The boy Sandy Ricks with the help of his famous buddy Flipper got into all kinds of mischief and adventures. What happened to Flipper the Dolphin? 

TV’s Flipper, played by 5 Dolphins, the main one, named Kathy, who was trained & loved for years by Rick O’ Barry; after experiencing Kathy’s death went on to start The Dolphin Project, educated people on the slaughter & captivity of Dolphins.

Besides being the main actor and TV star for Flipper every Friday night at 7:30, Kathy the Bottlenose Dolphin did more for animal rights than any other Hollywood Star and help set the course for modern Animal activists. People always argued whether Cathy was a Porpoise or a Dolphin.


What is the Difference Between a Dolphin and a Porpoise


Even though Dolphins, like Flipper, live in the ocean, they are not fish. Dolphins are different than Mahi-Mahi which are cold-blooded Dolphinfish. I’m so glad I heard this because I have enjoyed Mahi-Mahi- many times Polynesian style. Dolphins are warm-blooded and, like all mammals, breathe through their lungs and not through gills. The blowhole on their head is like a nose that takes in the air when they surface.

Like mammals Dolphins:

  • Give birth to their young rather than laying eggs as fish do
  • They feed their young with milk, as most mammals do
  • Dolphins even have hair around their blowhole that no fish does
  • Like other mammals, Dolphins can live for many years
  • Much like other mammals, Dolphins are predators in their environment


There are 75 species of dolphins, whales, and porpoises living in the ocean around the world. They are the only mammals, except for manatees, that spend their entire lives in the ocean.  An area of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is home to a resident group of bottlenose dolphins.

Many businesses conduct dolphin tours in this area, which can stress the dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins hunt for fish, squids, and shellfish such as crabs and shrimp. They often work together to herd their prey into one location. Dolphins also can produce high-frequency sounds to find prey by echolocation (a biological sonar used by several types of animals on the earth) 

The biggest difference between a Dolphin and its cousin, the Porpoise, which is also a mammal, is size. Porpoises don’t have the pronounced beak that Dolphins have. They’re both smart, but the Dolphin is much smarter. They also have different-shaped teeth. Porpoise teeth are spade-shaped whilst dolphins are conical.

A Dolphin has a hooked or curved dorsal fin, except for the species that have a dorsal fin, whereas a Porpoised is shaped more triangular. The Dolphin is more talkative and lovable, especially towards humans.

They have the whistle trademark that is made through their blowhole and seem to communicate with people differently than a porpoise, more like man’s 4 legged best friend but smarter. A lot of scientists think they are. They have a special relationship, a protective nature they exhibit towards man, that is different than anything found in the sea or on land. They even had TV shows and starred in Hollywood movies like Benji and Lassie. They could save the day and be your best friend.

Is Flipper Still Alive


There were 5 Bottlenose Dolphins that played the role in the popular TV series that made Flipper a household recognized name. One Dolphin who played the role for the majority of the show was named Kathy, who passed away in the arms of her trainer Rick O’Barry a few years after the TV show went off the air.

“Kathy looked me right in the eye,” Ric O’ Barry says. “Then she took a breath, and then never took another one. She sank to the bottom of the tank. I jumped in and got her to the surface and tried to revive her but she was gone at that point. I don’t really like talking about that. But that was 40 years ago. 1970. Earth Day 1970.”

That was from an interview with Rick O’ Barry, a dolphin trainer who worked for several years on the set of Flipper. There was a fascination with Flipper because of 2 hit movies that were box office hits before the TV Flipper came to air in 1964. O’Barry became a celebrity of sorts, making lots of money because of the popularity of the dolphins that he trained for TV series and movies.

He sailed and played with David Crosby from Crosby Stills Nash and Young and other well known musicians. He hung around TV and music celeberties and enjoyed the Hollywood lifestyle. “About halfway through the TV series I really started having second thoughts about captivity,” he said. He was unprepared, however, to make a big fuss. Things were going too well to ruin the party. “I remember complaining to everybody: ‘This is not right, you know.’ But I didn’t actually do anything.”

There came a day that transformed Ric from a happy-go-lucky dolphin trainer in Miami to a man obsessed with saving dolphins from captivity and the entertainment industry. The Day in 1970 that Kathy (who was really Flipper) died.

“Every breath a dolphin takes is a conscious effort, so they don’t have to take the next breath. That’s what I mean by suicide. I’d heard that dolphins commit suicide but I never experienced that until Kathy looked me right in the eye and took a breath and then never took another one.

Since then, Rick has traveled the world advocating for the release of Dolphins and Wales from places like Seaworld in Orlando, Florida. One of his most famous aquatic heroes besides Flipper was Orca the Killer whale. In February 2010, just a few days after Ric said those words in an interview on 60 Minutes, an Orca Whale at SeaWorld Orlando made his point in the worst possible way.

Tilikum, who had been becoming increasingly angry, frustrated, and depressed, turned on one of his trainers, Dawn Brancheau, dragged her underwater, mauled and savaged her, tore her apart, and left her dead in his pool as an audience of humans watched on, helpless and in horror.


Through Flipper’s Death Came The Dolphin Project


O’ Barry believes that Kathy, who played Flipper, committed suicide. He believes that dolphins make a conscious effort to breathe every time they take a breath. Kathy was trying to tell him something. That she had had enough and couldn’t go on, he believed that Dolphins were self-aware and the fact that Dolphins, like the ones that are found at SeaWorld, can suffer from depression and anxiety.

Mammals in captivity have never seen a tide or a live fish before, and the fact they were caged up and trained to do tricks just so they could eat makes them suffer, no matter how much the crowds love them.

He worked for decades training  Dolphins in captivity for TV and movies until he finally realized what he was doing was not right. Rick now travels the world trying to right a wrong he was involved with, like a road to redemption.

In 1970 he founded a non-profit organization called The Dolphin Project that educates people about Captivity and, when feasible, retiring and releasing Dolphins back to the wild. The mission of the Dolphin Project is to end the exploitation and slaughter of Dolphins, which is happening in other countries around the world.

The Dolphin Project has had many victories over the years, like the brutality that was taking place in Taiji, Japan, through a Documentary called The Cove that won an Academy Award in 2009. This film single-handedly ended the Dolphin slaughters that were happening in the Soloman Islands.

In the Solomon Islands, communities have been engaged in the practice of Dolphin hunting for hundreds of years, called Drive Hunt. The teeth of the Dolphin are used as currency and involved with a Bride’s Dowry. The Dolphin’s meat is consumed, and the Drive Hunt practice has been used since the beginning.


The Dolphin Project


 Rick O’ Barry’s Dolphin Project    The Dolphin Project is engaged in ground campaigns around the world, each of which actively targets the exploitation of wild dolphins for profit. His direct efforts have succeeded in reducing the number of wild captures as well as the numbers killed in dolphin hunts. They also support communities in their efforts to transition away from the misuse of natural resources by providing self-sufficient programs.

In Solomon Island, native communities used a Drive Hunt practice to hunt Dolphins that was crude but effective. Using a dugout wooden canoe and two stones that were smacked together underwater, Dolphins were corralled Spinner Dolphins right up onto the Beach, where the Dolphins were slaughtered.

Japan uses similar practices with high-tech motorized boats and other equipment that was started when a soldier saw the natives in Solomon’s practicing this unique technique in WWll. In fact, Dolphins use a similar technique with sonar and corralling their prey that the natives probably studied and used themselves.

The Japanese soldier took the information down, and his country started doing the same type of hunt on Dolphins in the 1950s. The Dolphin Project has been trying to transition the people of the Solomon Islands away from the hunting practice and find other solutions for them to be self-sustained.

Dolphin Traffickers


In the early 2000s, and because of the popularity of Dolphins and Aquarium Parks, non-native people and international dolphin traffickers saw an opportunity. Capitalizing on the poor residents of the Solomon Islands and seeing an opportunity to exploit the dolphin hunting taking place there, began paying sizable amounts to some locals to capture live bottlenose dolphins.

The buyers then marketed and sold the animals to international aquariums for huge profits in excess of ten times the amount paid to the Islanders.

Like with everything else where there is a demand for something, there is some kind of corruption which is what happened in Solomon Island. By 2011, The Government of the Solomons banned all exporting of Dolphins in 2012, not before hundreds of wild Dolphins were caught and brought to other countries where they are held in captivity today.

The life of a dolphin in Captivity can be harsh. They can be put in groupings with other families of Dolphins. Dolphins are family-oriented and can communicate with each other in the same family. The space that they are in is small and sterile, with no stimulation. Many Captive Dolphins are given ulcer medication or antidepressant medication to alleviate the frustration of captivity. Dolphins can turn to aggression and become depressed.

Because of smaller tanks, Dolphins can be exposed to the sun. The tanks are chlorinated, which can affect their eyesight. The tank contents could contain bacteria or fuel that comes from outside boat docks that the Dolphins are exposed to.


Dolphins in Captivity vs Wild


The Dolphins can experience bruising from bumping into glass walls or being grabbed by patrons. They could be wounded by “bullying” in close quarters in the aquarium. Whereas in the wild, they would not experience these things. They could leave or escape but can’t confine in a tank space.

Dolphins and Whales that are confined to captivity have compromised teeth as a result of frustrated chewing on their tank walls and dealing with aggression from being held captive.

Dolphins must accept new diets once in captivity, like dead fish. They sometimes undergo a series of operations like a tube that is forced into their stomach in case he gets sick so that the facility can force-feed via the method.

Dolphins are kept hungry, so they become compliant with instructions. This is done to learn new tricks for entertainment purposes.

Dolphins have evolved over 500 million years to become oxygen-breathing mammals. They have adapted perfectly to life in the sea. They have evolved to have complex brains that are self-aware. They have grown to develop close relationships with their family units and human beings.

We have fallen in love with them since the days of the movie and TV series called “Flipper”, the role played by an actor who was really a lovable intelligent Dolphin named Kathy.



JimGalloway Author/Editor



references: Earth in Transition Rick O’Barry from Flipper to the Cove

Legacy of Flipper 



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