Therapist plans more dolphin captives in Cayman

| 23/02/2010

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Science & Nature news, dolphin assisted therapy(CNS): 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, fuelled 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."

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  1. banks says:

    Just saw on CNN news the other day how a killer whale killed his trainer.

    Mankind messing around with Nature! 

    These things belong in the sea!

  2. Animaliberator says:

    The saddest part is that when dolphins have been in captivity for more then 6 months or so, it’s place in a bathtub has become a however short life sentence as they would have no clue anymore what to do in the wild in order to survive. This is why the operators claim that the dolphins are so "happy" in their bathtubs, as that is all it is for a marine mammal that swims thousands upon thousands of miles each year until their "natural" time is up.

    As long as we the people maintain to have such low moral standards by thinking that this is perfectly acceptable as to how we treat these animals on a local and global scale, we are going to need a lot more mental therapy then physical.

    But, the final result is in actuallity in the hands of the all the people besides the greedy operators regardless of what kind of circus they may be operating.

    Simple math: No people – No money – No circus

    As long as people patronize, they will survive so, think clearly, stop complaining and make up your mind. It is the most sensible and peaceful way of stopping this one and many other abusement parks around the world. We can’t stop these captive dolphins in this case from dying young but we can surely prevent other marine mammals from receiving the same fate if we stop supporting it.

  3. Paradise lost says:

    Just when you think GC can sink no further…they do!!  Incredible.  This is an absolute scam, pure and simple.  Follow the $$$ when it comes to the so-called medical professionals who believe in this sort of "therapy". 

    PR up for sale, bars at Stingray City, rampant crime, congestion, dolphin prisons, Mt. Trashmore, etc…where has the Cayman of old gone?  Piece by piece, soul by soul…sold to the highest bidder.  Paradise lost.  

  4. marktwain says:

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”  Mark Twain

  5. Keep it classy Cayman says:

    We can be at the forefront of unacceptable treatment of sea creatures.  You can molest a sting-ray in the morning, scratch a caged dolphin in the afternoon and eat turtle burgers at night.  Keep it classy Cayman.

  6. So Sad says:

    This therapy has been tried with very limited success in other countries such diverse countries such as Colombia and USA. Gullable parents desperate for an improvement in their childs condition have been fleeced and left broken hearted, and thousands of dollars out of pocket.  This circus act should not be allowed . The only medical people  to believe in this therapy are the one’s investing in the projects.

    • Maggie Jarvis says:

      My daughter attended Dr. Nathansons DHT facility in October 2003. At 16 years old, we had no un-realistic expectations of what the therapy could offer her, and went with an open mind. The results were amazing. 7 years later, we still follow Dr. Daves methods and her progress continues. Her doctors and therapists have admitted that her progress in quite remarkable. Most of the dolphins at the facility were either rescued from unscrupulous ‘entertainment’ centres or born into captivity. All the dolphins were very well cared for and under no circumstanceswere they ever forced to do anything. One particular therapy session was cancelled because the dolphins did not want to participate, and that was fine with everyone. My husband and I are not ‘Gullible’ and what we experienced was no ‘circus act’. People who have been fortuante enough to share the joy these beautiful creatures bring to many disabled youngsters, have a right to an opinion of the success of the therapy. Those sceptics who make judgements when they are in ignorance of all the facts, should keep quiet!!

  7. TheCove says:

    Please watch The Cove. I’d really encourage all readers to get this dvd/video out and watch it – I think it can be downloaded too – visit Also definately available at the Videomatic behind the airport. Really, really needs to be seen by more people, and especially pertinent to this sort of report. As people living in the Cayman Islands we need to be aware of the issues behind the captive dolphin parks – one could consider it a matter of closing the gate once the horse has bolted, but there will still be opportunity for further debate in the future. And once you’ve watched the movie, pass it on to a loved one or friend and get them to watch it too. This is happening on our doorstep!


  8. Anonymous says:

    This is seriously a load of garbage!

  9. neil burrowes says:

    Dolphin Cove (Morgan’s harbor) is the dolphin park referred to in the article – not a third dolphin park. We are dedicating the afternoon dolphin slots to the international therapy business.

    Cayman will soon be the world’s greatest therapy location for special need children.
    Should people have questions about the evidence based research Dr. Dave has published in peer reviewed journals, please visit
    I invite all people interested in learning about the industry to visit me at the park, Monday to Friday after 9am.
    I would like to thank the Cayman news service for the highlighting of our new program.
    • Joe Average says:

      My reply to you Mr. Burrowes is the same as it has always been.  If the dolphins, which are sentient beings, are so avidly delighted to "interact" with the humans you charge admission to.  And may charge even more as it is now being depicted as "therapy".

      Leave the gates open.

      The dolphins, when they are in need of being fondled, ridden, and performing tricks.  Will return.

      And if by chance… they don’t. 

      I guess you have your answer.

      It’s a prison.

      And the one’s who don’t believe it is are in need of therapy.

    • Anonymous says:

      "…our new program…"

      Well put, just another tourist trap – preying on the weak – you should be ashamed of yourselves.

      Program, yes a scam program.



      • Pending says:

        Isn’t that what "tourism"is? It doesn’t  have to be dolphins, it can be t-shirts, trips to the sand bar, parasialing, renting snorkelling gear, anything to get and make money of people who go to a country and stay for a short period of time.

        And maybe you should look at it another way, suppose these parents of the mentally challenged have exhausted all other options, don’t you think they might want to try it? If you had a mentally challenged child, would you not want to try all options available? Just because it is dolphins being used doesn’t mean they are being ripped off. You could say the same thing for all the other treatments that the parents may have forked out for already that have produced no results..

        The dolphins are already there, stop complaing, they aren’t going anywhere. They are fed and  taken care of, not abused. In fact they seem to be so comfortable that they have had a baby already, which was born in captivity so knows no better, as far as he / she is concerned that cage or facility is the ocean.

        • TheCove says:

          I don’t even know where to begin here. Really, your comments are so depressing, because I honestly think you believe this, and that’s tragic.

          Dolphins are not like t-shirts. They are not rental snorkelling gear. They are not like trips to the sandbar. They are incredibly sensitive sentient beings. What a terribly inane thing to say. Tourism can actually be about preserving the way things are (were),  without the abuse we’re talking about here.

          I feel desperately sorry for those parents of disabled children who are looking for a miracle cure or grasping at straws. But milking that desperation with clinically dubious cures at the expense of the abuse of dolphins and the parent’s wallets seems a little extreme. People grasp at all sorts of straws, this doesn’t make it right or acceptable. And I think we can generally agree that the money-grabbing fiends that would scam these desperate owners out of their hard earned money with false tales of miracle cures are the lowest of the low. But wouldn’t that apply to the dolphin parks too then? If other people do it, does it make it okay to do it here?

          Yes, the dolphins are here to stay. Just as long as we continue to do nothing to change things. Rapists, murderers, thieves and paedophiles are here too. Do we turn a blind eye to them? Do we just stop complaining and let them get on with it? Do you do that?

          I’m thrilled the dolphins had a baby, good on them. That it will never have the opportunity to fulfil its biological needs and instincts fills me with much sadness. Its a sad day when we simply say hey, it doesn’t know how bad it is, so it can’t be all that bad. If ignorance – as you imply – truly is bliss, then you must be one of the happiest people out there. Good on you too.



    • TheCove says:

      That’s just super. Just as long as the parent’s of the kids who pay those big, special bucks to get their kiddies out here to swim with dolphins know what was involved in getting them – ie the dolphins – here. Maybe offer them complimentary dvd’s on registration?


    • Anonymous says:

      Disgusting. Your industry is on it’s last legs and you’re trying everything you can think of to make a fast buck before you’re finished, even ripping off the most desperate and gullible with your ‘miracle cure.’ 

      I and many others will have the party of the year when your squalid business goes up sh** creek.  





  10. MCF says:

     I can’t speak for mental disabilities, but my brother is physically disabled & when we tried this "therapy" with him in the Florida Keys, it did nothing more than scare him.

    Now as for the topic of the facility itself……. No Way. There are already 2 here, which confuses people (local, expat & tourist alike)… add a 3rd and none of thefacilities will be sustainable. The island is too small to support 3 facilities. But… not like the government asks for our "permission" before they do anything anyway.

  11. Anonymous says:

    And how do they plan to get the people who need the therapy there?!!!  Another floating bar.

  12. Anonymous says:

    The 800 lb Gorilla in the room: 

    If the existing two squeaked through under the technicality (that they were submitted prior to new law), how can a third one hope to get approval now?

    • Anonymous says:

      Wake up.

      This is the Cayman Islands – Money Talks, ya pay and ya get.

      Pay the price and the Master Gorilla can arrange anything.

    • Pending says:

      It will be allowed because it is a facility within the already exeisting dolphin park. Merely another service  that will be provided to those who CHOOSE to use it…maybe you should read a bit more before jumping to conclusions.

  13. E.Y.W says:

    Plans to open? How far along are these plans?

    We need to stop this!


  14. Anonymous says:

    I personally saw this one coming and was surprised it wasn’t in the news here, but I guess a lot of things are in the international press before we find out here at home…


    Dolphin Cove has been recruiting "for an exciting new program in dolphin assisted therapy…" in the local papers for a while now. According to the advertisement in the Compass on Friday the 19th February, for example, they are seeking:

    –  local phsyical therapists

    – occupational therapists

    – speech/language pathologists

    – special educators

    – professionals from related rehab disciplines (nursing, recreational therapy, etc)

    – physical therapy or occupational therapy assistants


    Anticipated start date for those positions (4 hours/day with expansion to full time possible) is July 1, 2010.


    If anyone (including CNS…) would like to find out more information about this potential programme Dolphin Cove would probably be the place to ask. Neil Burrowes seems to be the contact for resumes and references and the number is 925-6315.

  15. Anonymous says:


    Let them be where they are suppose to be: