Flipper's Revenge

They're cute. They're cuddly. They're smart. And as the fiasco at Sugarloaf Key shows, they make humans do crazy things.

Accounts of life at Sugarloaf from August 1994 through June 1996 have been passed along and elaborated upon until the tale that emerges is a concoction of conflicting facts and perspectives. "There is no objective history here," asserts Naomi Rose, who was closely involved with the efforts at Sugarloaf. "Usually if you have five people watching an event, you'll get ten versions. In this case you'll get 25 versions. I cannot begin to tell you how intense the personality conflicts are among these activists. I've never seen anything like this."

Adds Niki Entrup, whose Vienna-based animal rights organization Vier Pfoten (Four Paws) was a major financial sponsor: "Something about dolphins makes people crazy."

Bogie, Bacall, and Molly were the first to arrive at the newly christened Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary in August 1994. The three female dolphins had been putting on private shows at the exclusive Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo for the previous six years. Prior to that, Molly, a voluptuous, unabashed dominatrix, had appeared in marine shows all over the U.S. and had even been trained to carry cameras to search for the Loch Ness monster in Scotland.

Federal law decrees that marine mammals held for display must be available to the general public, and the private Ocean Reef Club didn't want to open its doors. So after a long campaign by activists, the club's directors agreed to let their dolphins go. O'Barry and a 43-year-old Melbourne scuba diver named Joe Roberts had formed an organization called the Welcome Home Project, which was dedicated to taking Bogie and Bacall back to the Indian River lagoon near Melbourne, where they'd been captured in 1988. Sugarloaf would be their temporary home while O'Barry supervised their "untraining" and honed their survival skills. The much older Molly was considered more likely to "retire" at Sugarloaf.

Lloyd Good III, whose father has owned Sugarloaf Lodge since 1973, had been part of the negotiations for the "Ocean Reef Three" (as the activists dubbed them) and had been working for more than a year to obtain the federal license necessary to keep the dolphins until release. A laid-back 34-year-old with longish blond hair and a bushy beard, Good says he dreamed of establishing "the world's biggest dolphin pool, where dolphins can come and go as they please. I believe in letting them choose."

Support was generally enthusiastic for Bogie and Bacall's Welcome Home Project and for the whole premise of the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary. Representatives of some of the nation's most prominent animal rights organizations agreed to sit on the sanctuary's board of directors. Donations flowed in from wealthy animal advocates. Local raffles and benefit concerts raised more funds. In addition to hiring Ric O'Barry to oversee work with the dolphins, Good brought on several paid trainers and handlers. Volunteers offered to catch and prepare fish (a healthy dolphin eats 20 to 30 pounds of fish per day) and assist with myriad other chores.

O'Barry helped attract financial support and -- just as important -- media coverage. After a high-profile career as a television dolphin trainer, he underwent a radical change of heart and became a campaigner for dolphin freedom. He has accumulated three decades' worth of contacts in both entertainment and animal rights spheres; his anti-captivity resume includes protests and sabotage activities (resulting in several arrests), hunger strikes, and actual dolphin releases. None of the releases, however, has been thoroughly evaluated, so it's impossible to know how well the dolphins adapted. A 1993 release in Brazil is considered successful even by a few of his critics.

The job of retraining and releasing Bogie and Bacall, O'Barry estimated, would take three months and cost $25,000. In the spring of 1994, when the arrival of Bogie, Bacall, and Molly at Sugarloaf was thought to be imminent, O'Barry contacted Spiegel TV of Germany to see if its newsmagazine show would be interested in documenting the project. Spiegel executives flew him to Hamburg, wined and dined him, and agreed to pay $25,000 in three installments for exclusive rights to film the freeing of Bogie and Bacall. O'Barry figured he'd let the animals go on the symbolic date of July 4, 1994. Joe Roberts, from his office in Melbourne, would make sure the voluminous paperwork necessary to complete the application for a federal release permit was in order.

At the same time Sugarloaf was preparing for Bogie, Bacall, and Molly, another dolphin windfall was in the works. After much lobbying by the Humane Society and others, the U.S. Navy, which held more than 100 dolphins, agreed to relinquish some of its stable. Humane Society officials asked O'Barry to assist them, and together they flew to a naval facility in San Diego, where they were to select up to six release candidates. O'Barry chose five males he felt were most likely to readapt to the wild. (Two were later dropped because of poor health.) In late November 1994, O'Barry accompanied the dolphins Luther, Buck, and Jake on a military transport plane to the Naval Air Station at Key West. Sugarloaf staff and volunteers were on hand to help load them onto trucks for the short drive to the sanctuary.

Now there were seven, including the aging and ailing Sugar, who had lived in a lagoon at the Sugarloaf Lodge for more than twenty years and who was considered a Good family pet. Recalls Lloyd Good, who became the legal owner of the new animals: "I don't believe you can own dolphins, but I signed an agreement to receive Molly, Bacall, and Bogie on August 10, 1994. Then I signed an agreement to receive Luther, Buck, and Jake on November 30. I brought Ric O'Barry in because he was the only one at the time who had experience with releasing dolphins. Then everything started to go nutty."

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