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.

Writer Shaney Frey conducted her own investigation and concluded from medical records she obtained that Buck weighed just 24 pounds less than he did upon arriving at Sugarloaf from San Diego.

Insists Ric O'Barry: "They could have made it if they were left alone. This was a sabotage."

Not many people bought that argument. O'Barry was lambasted by animal rights groups and in the media as an irresponsible extremist. "What alternatives did I have?" he asks today. "I could have done nothing and left them there to be confiscated, or I could have taken them and given them a chance at freedom. I'd do the same thing today."

A few days after Buck was recaptured, government agents seized Jake, the timid navy dolphin left behind at Sugarloaf. Two weeks later they confiscated Molly and transferred her to the Dolphin Research Center, where she remains along with Buck. The navy transported Jake and Luther back to their holding pens in San Diego.

Rick Trout, who once was close to owning four of the Sugarloaf dolphins, has unleashed another fax attack -- this time against the Dolphin Research Center, where Molly, in her late middle age, is now pregnant. Trout has also gone to court in an effort to gain custody of the animals he believes are rightfully his. Until he exhausts his legal options, ownership of the four dolphins remains uncertain. "I should be a very angry man for having worked eight years and seeing them throw me out like they did," Trout says bitterly. "I don't care, as long as they do right by the animals. But this set things back for all the dolphins. We are looking now at five to ten years to clean up the mess Mr. O'Barry has made. His name is mud in just about every corner."

Ric O'Barry, not one to sit passively as his name and reputation are trashed, is writing a book that will lay out his version of the Sugarloaf fiasco. Occasionally he is called upon to travel overseas for speaking engagements or to rally support for specific dolphin causes. Not all animal rights organizations, it seems, have given up on him.

Niki Entrup of Four Paws, however, is among those who are taking a step back -- not just from O'Barry but from American-style activism altogether. "For any future rehabilitation and release of dolphins I'll get a businessman to manage the project, someone who's selling shoes or records, and be sure not to get a dolphin person," Entrup vows. "I don't know what it is about people who work to free dolphins -- they're coming closer to getting this hero sickness, people promoting themselves; they want to be on TV. I think this is really a problem. The dolphins were never the problem. The only problem was the people.

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