The latest version of the old “dolphin assisted therapy” scam has pregnant mothers going to a resort in Peru where two captive dolphins supposedly make their unborn babies more intelligent by communicating with them in dolphin-squeak.
But this particular version of the scam may be worse than useless; it could even be dangerous.
The Delfines Hotel, which is built around a pool where two dolphins spend their entire lives being touched and harassed in exchange for food, has managed to persuade not only the gullible new-age crowd, but even the mainstream U.S. media, to promote it as a mecca for dolphin lovers. According to Time.com:
Delfines Hotel has an attraction unlike any other in South America: dolphins. This modern five-star hotel in San Isidro is home to two dolphins that frolic in an indoor pool. The hotel’s bars and restaurants are centered around the dolphin pool for good viewing. Insider Tip: The hotel sponsors a dolphin-research institution off site, while caring for the two animals kept in the pool. Guests can get hands-on experience assisting the caretakers at feeding and play time.
“Caring for” the dolphins? Just like when 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped in Salt Lake City by a man and his wife who forced her into unnatural behavior for a year before being arrested and sent to prison for 15 years. Perhaps, at some enlightened future time, our society will respond this same way to people who kidnap nonhuman animals and keep them as prisoners, requiring them to perform for their audiences.
Along with sponsoring polarity therapy, art therapy, Fruit therapy vinotherapy and “counseling”, a new age outfit called Mind Body & Soul promotes dolphin therapy as “enhancing” the development of an unborn infant.
Wayra and Yaku’s trainer says the high-pitched sounds stimulate a part of the human brain connected to relaxation.
And what do scientists who aren’t on the payroll of the dolphins’ owners say about this? Professors Lori Marino and Scott Lilienfeld, research psychologists at Emory University, evaluated the methods used by people claiming to have demonstrated the effectiveness of dolphin therapy. (Their articles are here and here.) They found that none of claims met even the minimal standards of medical clinical trials.
And Prof. Hal Herzog, author of the book Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat; Why it’s so hard to think straight about animals, has also evaluated the supposed benefits of dolphin assisted therapy.
Dolphin therapy is a magnet for desperate parents who will pay whatever it takes to help their kids with disorders like autism and Down syndrome. They flock to the more than one hundred therapeutic Swim-With-Dolphins programs in the Florida Keys, Bali, Great Britain, Russia, the Bahamas, Australia, Israel, and Dubai, hoping that, through some unknown force, the sleek creatures with Mona Lisa smiles will work their magic on broken minds and tormented souls.
The claims made about the curative powers of dolphins are over the top: interacting with dolphins, it is said, can alleviate Down syndrome, AIDS, cranial sacral disorders, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism, learning disorders, deafness, and now coma.
Among their presumed healing mechanisms are bioenergy force fields, the high frequency clicks and grunts that dolphins use to communicate with each other, and even the ability to directly alter human brain waves.
What accounts for the sometimes-positive testimonies of parents who have paid thousands of dollars in advance for this “therapy”?
Placebo effects, wishful thinking, and simply having a new experience are more plausible explanations for the supposed improvements seen in dolphin therapy patients than hypothetical “bio-energy force fields.”
Think about it. In addition to hanging out with some of the most appealing creatures on Earth, you travel to beautiful places, spend time floating in tropical seas, and live in a supportive environment where your expectations for success are high.
But objective observations tell it like it is. At one resort in Florida, researchers watched as groups of mentally and physically handicapped children interacted with captive dolphins:
They found that most of the dolphins ignored the children, and there was not much ultrasonic dolphin talk going on. In fact, the children were exposed to an average of only 10 seconds of dolphin ultrasounds during each session, not nearly enough to be beneficial. The researchers concluded that the kids would have been better off playing with dogs.
There have even been stories of children being injured by dolphins who were clearly fed up with their unpaid job.
As for the notion that pregnant women and their babies gain some real benefit from having dolphins emit ultrasonic waves at close range, Prof. Marino is not just skeptical; she’s actively worried for the babies. Asked for her opinion on this latest “therapy”, she responded:
Not only is there is absolutely no evidence that dolphin echolocation enhances brain development, there is a chance that the high frequency sound waves could be damaging to a developing fetus. What mother would take that risk?
As for the two dolphins at the Delfines Hotel, they’d be a lot happier communicating with each other’s unborn babies, out in the great ocean where they belong.