by Larry Smith
They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning,
No-one you see, is smarter than he,
And we know Flipper, lives in a world full of wonder,
Flying there-under, under the sea! — Flipper TV show theme
For most people of a certain age, our image of the cheerful, helpful and super intelligent bottlenose dolphin was formed by the iconic 1960s Flipper television series - a marine version of Lassie.
The TV show was an adaptation of the 1963 Ivan Tors movie. It was based in Florida, but parts were filmed here - out east near High Vista. And 30 years later, a Flipper revival movie was filmed at Jaws Beach, between Lyford Cay and Clifton.
The show portrayed a wild dolphin who acted as a sidekick to a Florida marine park warden and his two young sons. Produced in cooperation with the Miami Seaquarium, all the TV dolphins were captured and trained by an ex-navy diver named Ric O’Barry.
"I went to the Seaquarium for the first time on opening day in 1955, when I was on leave from the navy,” O’Barry said in a recent interview. "It was only the third dolphinarium in the world…and I realized that's what I wanted to do. And five years later when I got out of the navy, that's what I did. My first day on the job was on the capture boat.”
The show gave O’Barry a good life. He lived in the house that was used in the filming, on the Seaquarium property at Key Biscayne, with the dolphins he trained just down the beach. And as a result of the show’s popularity, marine mammal facilities began opening all over the world, giving rise to a multibillion-dollar trade in live dolphins.
But Flipper also ended up changing O’Barry's life. In 1970, he made an about-face and began educating the public on the plight of captive dolphins, spending some time in the Bimini jail for trying to release a dolphin held at Alice Town's now-defunct Lerner Marine Lab. For the last 40-plus years he has spoken out against dolphin capture at lectures and conferences around the world. In fact, he gave a talk in Nassau a few months ago.