“Dolphin Assisted Therapy, or DAT, is an increasingly popular Animal Assisted Therapy made available through a growing number of programmes around the world and marketed as offering a cure or respite from human illness or disability.
Dolphins are wild animals and unpredictable, even when well-trained. People have suffered bites, bruises, scratches, abrasions and broken bones as a result of swimming with dolphins. Dolphins are large, strong animals and entering the water with them can present a risk to human health and safety.
Disease transmission is a serious concern, as dolphins can carry diseases that can be transmittable to humans. Although the dolphins may be screened for disease, there may be no legal requirement to
do this and some facilities do not have adequate veterinary or husbandry practices in place.
Proponents of DAT have claimed it can be used to treat a whole range of physical and psychological conditions. But two independent reviews by senior Emory University scholars demonstrate that there is no proven scientific validity to DAT.
“Despite DAT’s extensive promotion to the general public, the evidence that it produces enduring improvements in the core symptoms of any psychological disorder is nil” (Marino and Lilienfeld 2007). They recommend that “Both practitioners of DAT and parents who are considering DAT for their children should be made aware that this treatment has yet to be subject to an adequate empirical test” (Marino & Lilienfeld 1998). Betsy Smith was a pioneer of Dolphin Assisted Therapy but in 2003 she denounced it publicly, strongly criticising these activities, stating that
“It is a rather cynical and deceptive practice by dolphinarium and swim-with-programs owners. Some certified therapists with no dolphin knowledge will charge exorbitant fees for treatment that can be done without dolphins… At the heart of all these therapy programs is the exploitation of vulnerable people and vulnerable dolphins” (Betsy Smith 2003).”—- wdcs.org