Dolphin Healing


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Registered Charity Number 1121315

Dolphin Healing by Dr. Horace Dobbs BSc.PhD

The concept that dolphins could have a positive and powerful effect on the human psyche reappeared in the early 1950s with the work of the late Dr John Lilly. His laboratory studies from 1955 to 1962 on the neuroanatomy of dolphins and the relationship between dolphins and humans prompted Lilly to explore the workings of his own mind, and he developed the concept of the Isolation Tank.


Synchronised Swimming :-JoJo and Dean
photo by Horace Dobbs

Together with other eminent scientists, Lilly contributed to a highly original book, Mind in the Waters, which laid the foundations for a revolutionary concept- that there was another mind on our planet: ‘a mind anatomically like ours, but profoundly different’. It could be argued that it is the interaction of that mind with ours which is the keystone of dolphin healing as we know it today.

In their book Dolphins and Their Power to Heal, Amanda Cochrane and Karena Callen plot the progress of dolphin healing from the mythological evidence in earliest times until the present. Their account takes in the work of Dr Betsy Smith, who noted in the early 1970s that neurologically impaired children responded in a positive way to close contact with dolphins. In 1978 and 1981 Smith set up research projects at Dolphins Plus in Key Largo, Florida, specifically to investigate the therapeutic benefits of swimming with dolphins for autistic children and their carers. Her studies included comparison of autists who swam with live dolphins to others who were given inflatable dolphins to play with. However, although Betsy Smith and the parents of those participating were convinced that encounters with live dolphins were definitely beneficial, the objective scientific data was not conclusive

Dolphin Assisted Therapy                               

In the late 1980s Dr David Nathanson started working with brain damaged and mentally handicapped children using contact with dolphins as a reward. Nathanson discovered that the learning abilities of children increased by as much as 500%. In 1988 he set up a project at The Dolphin Research Centre, Grassy Key, Florida involving children with handicaps ranging from Cerebral Palsy to Down’s Syndrome. The success of his methods achieved widespread publicity, especially in Britain where specific cases were reported in the popular press. This has led to the use of dolphins for therapy in dolphin amusement parks around the world.

Cetacean Freedom Network                             

Not unnaturally the use of captive dolphins for therapy gave cause for grave concern to those opposed to the confinement of cetaceans. The captivity issue is one that is being addressed by all those involved with dolphin healing. Those in favour argue that only under the controlled conditions of a dolphinarium is it possible to offer dolphin healing on an organised basis, especially to patients with very limited mobility. Those against say that such establishments pose serious ethical problems. If we accept that we are dealing with minds like ours, then what right have we to imprison dolphins for our benefit?


JoJo and Dean. Perfect Bliss
photo by Horace Dobbs

The Cetacean Freedom Network, which operated globally via the Internet was set up to represent dolphin rights. In January 1997 it produced a mission statement declaring that dolphins had a right to be free, and that those in captivity should be returned to the wild. Dr Betsy Smith had already ceased working with captive dolphins. Dr John Lilly, who had released his research dolphins several years earlier, proposed that in the light of our

present knowledge, dolphins should be accorded the same rights as humans, even so far as being represented at the United Nations.

Research in the Open Sea by Dr. Horace Dobbs

Dolphins have always evoked in me most of the values we humans are striving for, especially freedom and love. I could never justify their confinement. Since I started in 1974, I have conducted all of my research with wild dolphins in the open sea. It was their choice to participate. They were always free to swim away at any time - and often did. It was a challenge, but I succeeded in showing that it is possible to work with totally free wild dolphins who chose to associate with humans.

Operation Sunflower

Research by Dr. Horace Dobbs

In 1986 Bill Bowell, dressed in yellow oilskin, stood on the jetty at Solva in South Wales. Twelve years earlier, after a heart attack, he had been jailed for a crime which he had not committed. Although he was later completely exonerated, the sound of the doors of his prison cell would not go away. None of the many medical treatments he received could relieve the darkness of the emotionless world in which he now locked himself. He rarely communicated with his wife and their five children; he could not work, and he was diagnosed as a chronic depressive.


Bill Bowell meets Simo for the first time
photo by Horace Dobbs

Going on holiday for the first time in 12 years had not changed the situation. Not, that is, until the day he went out on a boat trip to see Simo. Simo was a friendly wild dolphin who frequented the waters in a picturesque corner of Pembrokeshire. At first Bill lay on the side of the inflatable and stroked the dolphin’s smooth skin when Simo came alongside. When I offered him the use of my wetsuit Bill accepted. A few moments later he plopped into the sea.

After a brief inspection by the dolphin the two were lying almost motionless on the surface face to face. Those of us on the boat watched, mesmerised with fascination. A bond was forming between the man and the dolphin, the like of which I had never witnessed before.

When we eventually hauled Bill back into the inflatable he smiled for the first time in twelve years. With tears in her eyes, his wife remarked ‘I have just seen a trace of the Bill I lost 12 years ago’. The seed for ‘Operation Sunflower’ was sown. I decided to set up a research project to investigate the healing power of dolphins

Ever since I had made the TV film Ride a Wild Dolphin about Donald off the coast of Cornwall in 1976, I was aware that dolphins could bring joy into human lives. But could their effect on the human psyche really be strong enough to help clinical depressives? There was one way to find out: to organise a trial.

I decided to conduct the first study in Ireland where another solitary, friendly dolphin called Dorad, or Funghie, was frolicking with those who cared to join him in the sea off the fishing port of Dingle in County Kerry. Bill Bowell was one of my subjects. The others I chose were Jemima Biggs, whose depression presented as anorexia nervosa, and Neal Jackson who suffered from paranoia.

The film I made about Operation Sunflower was called The Dolphin’s Touch. It showed how the dolphin responded to the three depressives when they swam with him. More importantly, it showed how they responded to their encounters with the dolphin. Bill, Jemima and Neil were not magically cured, but they all felt that they were well on the road to recovery.

In the past I had conducted clinical trials with medical and veterinary colleagues. These had followed strict scientific disciplines involving control groups. They demanded objective observations and precise measurements that could be subjected to detailed statistical analysis. I fully accepted that my study in Dingle did not fulfil these criteria. Nonetheless I was absolutely convinced that I was on the right lines and that dolphins could indeed help those suffering from depression.


Rhapsody in Blue

The success of my experiment, however, posed a major problem. In Britain, an estimated one person in ten was expected to need some form of psychiatric help during his or her lifetime. Clearly taking even a tiny fraction of these people out into the sea to swim with dolphins was utterly impossible. I needed a dolphin pill. But as no direct pharmacological interactions were taking place, what possible form could my non-chemical pill take?


For further information read Dolphin Healing by Dr. Horace Dobbs, available from the International Dolphin Watch online Dolphin Shop

Operation Sunshine Family Therapy Programmes was registered as a charity as a direct result of this research by Dr Horace Dobbs BSc.PhD. Horace is Patron, Researcher and Medical Advisor of the programme.

English Ideal Apple.jpg WHY DOLPHINS?

If you watch dolphins, you will feel that their life is play and fun most of the time.

They show us that life is always connected with joy and fun, no matter how difficult challenges may seem. Dolphins are symbols of enthusiasm, intelligence and playfulness and they learn extremely fast.

The sea is their home, their school and their playground. These three areas of life are not separated. Humans, however, usually create a strong separation between the different areas (home/family, school/work, leisure time). For dolphins, work and play is melted together and not different at all. 

Thus the dolphin’s life style shows us in a very impressive and easy way a holistic and integrative teaching and learning method where everyone meets challenges and new subjects with fun, curiosity and playful ease.

Research showed us that dolphins have a very complex social fabric, extraordinary communicative and psychic abilities. Scientists assume that dolphins basically use their right brain hemisphere to survive. This also explains their playful attitude to all things in life and their harmonious relationship with their environment.

Studies show:

Dolphins transmit their joie de vivre to humans and stimulate mental processes. This is caused – among other things – by the emission of endorphines which can have both short and long term effects. Endorphines lift the mood, relax tensions and thus support receptive and learning abilities.

Dolphins are sapient, sentient beings. They have a very special relationship with humans, perhaps related to the fact that they have brains as large and highly evolved as our own. They live in the sea, an environment that is alien to humans, yet we are drawn to them. They cannot speak, but they can certainly communicate. In ancient Greece, dolphins were worshipped and the temple at Delphi was dedicated to a dolphin god. To kill a dolphin was a crime punishable by death. Did these ancient people have a knowledge of dolphins we have lost and are now rediscovering?
Melanie Parker (IDW)




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