Could SeaWorld’s captive animal shows soon be replaced by robotic dolphins?
San Francisco-based tech company Edge Innovations has created an animatronic bottlenose dolphin that moves and swims just like the real thing.
Roger Holzberg and Walt Conti—the former Vice President and Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering respectively—designed the robot, named Flipper.
The robotic dolphin—which weighs nearly 600 pounds—features a realistic muscle and skeletal structure. It’s currently designed to be remote-controlled.
Cetaceans In Captivity
Cetaceans—which includes dolphins, whales, and porpoises—are highly complex and intelligent creatures. They can roam vast distances in the ocean and are incredibly social, living in tight-knit family units.
Studies have shown that dolphins and other cetaceans that are held in captivity suffer greatly. This is partly due to the fact that their tanks do not adequately replicate the ocean.
A captive orca would have to swim around a tank at SeaWorld 1,400 times per day in order to equal the distance a wild orca would swim in the ocean. This is according to wildlife charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation.
Public opinion is changing around keeping cetaceans in captivity.
Following the release of the 2013 film “Blackfish”—which exposed the reality of keeping orcas in captivity—SeaWorld faced a wave of criticism from activists, celebrities, and the public. The marine park stopped breeding orcas and revamped its shows—shifting focus away from entertainment in favor of being educational.
Earlier this year, SeaWorld announced it would no longer allow dolphin surfing in its marine parks. It also revealed it would also stop allowing trainers to stand on the animals’ noses during its shows.
Reinventing Marine Entertainment With Robots
Could these captive dolphins eventually be replaced by cruelty-free animatronic versions?
Holzberg and Conti created the robotic dolphin due to the falling favor of captive marine mammal shows. Their mission is to reinvent the dying marine entertainment industry.
The company believes real-time animatronics will allow aquariums and marine parks like SeaWorld to continue their shows in a sustainable, ethical, and safe manner.
“For those of us that care about marine animal preservation, this is a dream come true,” Holzberg said in a statement.
China has its eyes set on the animatronic dolphins. According to Edge Innovations, the robotic dolphins could soon be joining a new Chinese aquarium.
“I’m humbled, exhilarated, and looking forward to designing these animal saving experiences for years to come,” Holzberg said on Twitter.