FORT LAUDERDALE (CN) – A marine park claims dolphin activist Ric O’Barry, who was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” defamed it on TV by falsely linking it to the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins in Japan. Ocean World claims O’Barry and the Earth Island Institute fabricated statements about it to boost donations and sales of “The Cove” and of O’Barry’s books.
Ocean World, in the Dominican Republic, sued Earth Island Institute, a California corporation, and O’Barry, the director of its Miami branch, in Broward County Court.
Ocean World describes itself as “a world class family marine park” featuring “the largest man-made dolphin habitat in the world.” It says it is a dolphin-friendly sea park where families can observe and interact with marine life.
Far from endorsing the dolphin hunts which have been going on for hundreds of years in Japan Ocean World rescues dolphins and offers them a safe habitat, it says in its 30-page complaint.
“In 2006, plaintiff, Ocean World S.A. contracted with the Taiji Whale Museum to place 12 dolphins that had been spared from being slaughtered by the 2006-2007 drive hunt,” the complaint states. (S.A., Sociedad Anónima, is the Spanish-language version of “Inc.”)
Ocean World says it hired marine mammal experts to safely transport the dolphins to the Dominican park.
“The plaintiff, Ocean World S.A., made a reasonable effort to help the twelve (12) dolphins embark on a second chance for life and to assist them in a journey involving safe passage to a loving caring home at its family’s one hundred million dollar world class facility,” according to the complaint.
Ocean World claims that “the defendant, E.I.I., had a competing commercial and financial business interest against plaintiff, Ocean World S.A., and the marine park industry.”
The complaint states: “The defendants schemed to defame the plaintiff by fabricating statements and documentation for money, fame and other inducements.
“The defendant, R. O’Barry, was content with dolphin aquariums until his show, ‘Flipper’ was canceled and consequently collaborated and schemed for his new career of making money by to destroy [sic] all aquariums and their owners by whatever means possible.”
Ocean World describes O’Barry and Earth Island Institute as radical environmental activists.
“Defendant R. O’Barry has admitted to reporters, in his books, and ‘The Cove’ that he has numerous other arrests including releasing dolphins at dolphin facilities, and committing acts which are recognized as acts of eco-terrorism under federal and state animal enterprise terrorism laws to allegedly ensure full protection of dolphins,” the complaint states.
O’Barry became famous in the 1960s as head trainer for five dolphins that collectively starred as Flipper on the popular TV series.
On Earth Day in 1970, O’Barry founded The Dolphin Project, an organization dedicated to combating dolphin captivity and educating the public about its harmful effects.
O’Barry claims to have made the radical transition from training captive dolphins to dolphin rights activism after Kathy, one of the “Flipper” dolphins, committed suicide in his arms.
O’Barry appeared in the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove”, which drew attention to the annual roundup and slaughter of dolphins off the coast of Taiji, Japan.
Ocean World says the “defendants spun a myriad of schemes with defendant R. O’Barry as a super hero with the misleading title of ‘Marine Mammal Specialist’ to further the deception to establish defendant R. O’Barry as an alleged selfless dolphin expert with the overt purpose for the financial gain of the defendants for an undisclosed sum and specifically for the continued financial gain of defendant E.I.I.’s multi-million dollar corporate global operations.”
Ocean World claims the defendants used TV appearances and publications to coax donations from companies around the world.
Ocean World claims O’Barry defamed it during a May 2010 interview on Fox News’ “Huckabee Show,” on which he discussed the making of “The Cove.”
The complaint states that O’Barry accused marine parks – and Ocean World in particular – of driving the dolphin hunts by paying big money for trainable dolphins.
Citing a transcript from the TV show, Ocean World quotes Barry as saying: “We know that Ocean World casino in the Dominican Republic paid $154,000 for each dolphin. And when we started speaking out against this, myself and Earth Island Institute, we were hit with a $700 million lawsuit which we are still dealing with.”
Two minutes later on the TV show, Barry said: “It is the captivity industry that keeps this slaughter going by rewarding the fishermen,” according to the complaint, which cites the transcript.
Ocean World claims that O’Barry’s false statements, endorsed by Earth Island Institute, were meant to hurt marine parks and boost donations for the defendants.
“Defendant E.I.I.’s continued false factual assertions were created in order to generate the level of public outrage toward plaintiff, Ocean World S.A., dolphin swim programs, and the marine mammal theme park industry that defendant E.I.I. was able to generate in the 1980s during its dolphin/tuna net campaign which resulted in the current business arrangement that defendant E.I.I. enjoys as it collects tax-free dollars from tax paying corporations throughout the entire world,” the complaint states.
“The false factual assertions were intended to connect the plaintiff, Ocean World S.A., to ‘The Cove’, the annual Taiji drive, and intensify drama for defendant R. O’Barry’s book(s) and for the movie in which defendant R. O’Barry cast himself as the hero, in an effort to generate higher ticket sales, higher DVDs sales, higher royalties, increased donations, and to further generate personal and career financial gain and notoriety.”
Ocean World seeks damages for defamation, and attorney’s fees.
It is represented by Alexander Penalta with Penalta & Stiger of Boca Raton.