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.

Dolphin-freedom advocates tend to favor psychological approaches to health problems, contending that most ailments suffered by captive dolphins, such as ulcers, are brought on by stress. Lloyd Good, though, is more a purist than most. "In the case of dolphins in captivity," he says, "most problems are spiritual problems. A lot of what I did would freak out any typical vet."

In the early stages of the Sugarloaf project, Good was introduced to a shaman, a Native American healer-spiritualist who described herself as a "holistic veterinarian." Good was convinced he'd found salvation. He brought out the shaman, named Sharman, from her California home and paid her for several extended visits. Soon she became his (and Sugarloaf's) spiritual guide, and a consulting "veterinarian" to the dolphins. If some people didn't approve of that, there wasn't much they could do, as Good was the legal owner of both Sugarloaf Lodge and the dolphins. One observer, a Boynton Beach writer named Shaney Frey who is working on a book about the Sugarloaf releases, recalls her impressions of Sharman the shaman: "When I first met her, I thought, 'Who is this little Humpty-Dumpty wrapped in fox furs with a tom-tom and ribbons in her braids?' She had Lloyd running around the sanctuary chanting and burning incense. He always called her when a dolphin was sick."

Six months after Bogie, Bacall, and Molly arrived from Ocean Reef, Spiegel TV was wondering what had happened to O'Barry's 90-day timetable. The Spiegel producer, Marion Renk-Richardson, had prepared both print and broadcast stories about O'Barry a few years earlier and thought highly of him -- so much so that she had already turned over two-thirds of the contracted $25,000. "He had promised speedy delivery," Richardson says today, "then it turned out no way ever in our wildest dreams this could be the case. After a year still nothing had happened. Ric O'Barry was sitting by the water in a meaningful way. He fashioned himself as a rock-star dolphin activist. He got a lot of money, lived a rock and roll lifestyle, and became more involved in hanging out with [Prince Sadruddin] Aga Khan and dating an Italian model."

Indeed, for decades O'Barry has moved in exotic circles, living the life of a romantic rebel, and has, in fact, hung out with rock stars. He is not at all shy about reminding the world that he pretty much singlehandedly founded the dolphin liberation movement and was its most visible spokesman until just the past five years. In Europe, where animal welfare issues are often taken more seriously than in the U.S., O'Barry is a true media presence; he attracts attention and money. Yet he and his supporters bridle at accusations by detractors that he is profligate; his apartment in South Miami is not luxurious, and he has suffered physical discomfort and deprivation to publicize his cause, including dozens of nights spent in jails and a recent hospitalization following a hunger strike in protest of the Israeli government's importation of dolphins.

German television executives weren't the only people experiencing difficulties with O'Barry. By early 1995 the honeymoon was also over between O'Barry and Joe Roberts, Welcome Home's two principals. The problem wasn't so much the delay in releasing Bogie and Bacall as it was money. No sooner had the contract with Spiegel TV been signed and the first cash installment deposited in the Welcome Home bank account than Roberts began hearing about fundraising events that supposedly brought in thousands of dollars he never saw. "When I brought this up to Ric," Roberts recounts, "he told me it was none of my business, that he was doing this when I was still learning to tie my shoes. We fought about it." (O'Barry asserts that money raised by him and his supporters in Europe for Bogie and Bacall did go toward legitimate Welcome Home expenses, which, according to Roberts, exceeded the original $25,000 estimate by eight times.)

By March 1995 Spiegel TV had utterly lost patience with O'Barry. Richardson completed a half-hour documentary about Bogie and Bacall and their lives at Sugarloaf, but that was hardly what anyone wanted. Another German company had been filming the retraining of navy dolphins Luther, Buck, and Jake, but finally gave up too, and produced instead a documentary critical of O'Barry. Spiegel never made its final payment to him, but Richardson still believes she was ripped off. Counters O'Barry: "They didn't get what they wanted, but it was no ripoff."

By the early summer of 1995 even Lloyd Good was growing impatient. Encouraged by his shaman to follow his heart, and convinced that the dolphins were feeling as frustrated as the humans, Good unilaterally decided the time had come to "give them a choice." And so he set them all free. At least he tried to. Four swam away when he opened the gates that separated Sugarloaf's lagoons from the open waters of Florida Bay, but they quickly returned. When that impromptu release plan didn't work, Good allowed Luther to swim in a holding pen with Bogie and Bacall.

O'Barry had been out of town, but when he returned and discovered what had happened, he was furious. Good, however, would not relent. "It's unnatural to separate dolphins by sex," Good says by way of explanation. But the unfettered interaction led to trouble: Bogie and Bacall soon became pregnant, a development likely to further delay their release.

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