Desperate parents in search of cures have flown to the facilities, as if to a seaside Lourdes, when all else has failed.
An article published in the health section of today’s edition of the Washington Post reveals that an American retired psychologist is planning to open what could be a third captive dolphin facility in the Cayman Islands, this time under the guise of human therapy. The feature piece by Katherine Ellison examines the controversy surrounding dolphin-assisted therapy, which some say is just another way of exploiting both dolphins and humans for profit. In the article Ellison reveals that retired Florida International University psychologist, David Nathanson, aims to open what he calls a therapy centre in Cayman.
Cayman already has two captive dolphin entertainment facilities in West Bay — Dolphin Cove and Dolphin Discovery, both of which faced considerable opposition from the community, including the tourism industry. Both were granted Trade and Business licenses before the previous government imposed a moratorium on further facilities.
However, Nathanson told the Washington Post feature writer that he would be opening a major new dolphin therapy centre in the Cayman Islands this summer. Nathanson has reportedly conducted a number of studies on dolphin therapy and claims children with disabilities learned faster and retained information longer when they were with dolphins compared to children who learned in a classroom setting.
He has been selling dolphin-assisted therapy for more than 20 years and his website describes him as head of Dolphin Human Therapy, "an international consulting company dedicated to helping you establish, on site at your facility, the highest quality professional rehabilitation program for children (and some adults) with disabilities, depression or other special needs."
It is not clear from the article or his website if Nathanson intends to open a separate facility or if he intends to work with one of Cayman’s existing facilities. CNS has contacted the Department of Tourism for comment and more details on the revelation in the Washington Post article report.
According to Ellison’s feature, the dolphin-therapy business has been booming, fueled in part by the rapid growth in diagnoses of childhood mental disorders such as autism. Desperate parents in search of cures have flown to the facilities, as if to a seaside Lourdes, when all else has failed.
“The practice, however, is fiercely criticized by researchers and marine mammal conservationists, including the educational anthropologist widely credited with having invented it, retired Florida International University researcher Betsy Smith,” she writes.
Critics say it is no more effective and considerably more expensive than skilful conventional treatment, while potentially harmful to the humans and the animals. Smith, who was originally inspired by watching a dolphin interact with her mentally disabled brother in the 1970s, offered the therapy free of charge for more than a decade, before abandoning the work out of ethical concerns in the 1990s. She now maintains that dolphin therapy boils down to "the exploitation of vulnerable people and vulnerable dolphins."