Since the American hit series "Flipper" the dolphin is one of the most popular animals ever. Always friendly, intelligent and helpful, the perpetually smiling dolphins swam into the hearts of the audience. Soon they were also awarded healing abilities: The American behavioral scientist and psychologist dr. David E. Nathanson developed the so-called delfin-assisted therapy in the late 1980s, whose first approaches date back to the early 70s.
Dolphin therapy soon became the new miracle therapy for various physical and mental disabilities. But to date, the effectiveness of dolphin therapy is controversial; In addition, there is a lot of criticism about the non-welfare of the dolphins.
Dolphin Therapy for Autism, Trauma & Co.
Dolphin therapy still does not include a consistent concept, but there are more and more providers worldwide of this expensive form of therapy. Especially children with autism, spasticity, brain trauma, mental retardation and mental illness should benefit from the dolphin therapy, for example, "no scientific evidence that dolphin therapy helps children with autism to promote and cure" (Maria Kaminski, chair of the Federal Association autism Germany eV).
Often the patients are people who have difficulty communicating with their environment or have motor deficiencies. The dolphins should primarily help to better perceive the environment and to get in touch with him as well as to increase the ability to concentrate.
Dolphins as a reward
Often the dolphin therapy is based on the principle of reward: The patient should first perform a series of tasks that provide him physiotherapist, speech and behavioral therapists. After successful completion, the game beckons with the dolphin, which happens either from a platform or in the tank at the animal itself.
Some critics complain that the Dolphin Therapy approach assumes that the learning and motivation difficulties are largely attributed to the attention deficit of the patient groups concerned, which is incompatible with the current state of research.
Dolphin Therapy: Scientifically Controversial
Although it is widely agreed that dolphin therapy actually leads to success. However, there is still disagreement as to whether the progress of the patients is actually driven by the dolphins or determined by other factors.
Critics complain that scientific studies on the effectiveness of dolphin therapy did not sufficiently consider the circumstances favorable to the learning success, such as changes in the environment and a possibly resulting holiday feeling, movement in the water or increased attention and a positive expectation.
Effect of sonar waves not clearly proven
Also, opponents of dolphin therapy criticize that statements on the much-propagated healing effects of sonar waves, with the help of which the dolphins communicate with each other, are sometimes contradictory.
While a group of scientists claim that the frequency of the brain waves is increased and therefore reassuring, the others expect a reduction and thus an activation and performance increase. Still other scientists consider the possible effects of ultrasound on tissue extremely unlikely.
Dolphin Therapy: Progress but no miracles
Erwin Breitenbach from the special pedagogical institute of the University of Würzburg rates the dolphin therapy quite positive: The children have become more active, self-confident and courageous, and their communication skills have also improved. Even half a year after completion of the dolphin therapy, the success was still observed.
Nevertheless, Breitenbach also warns against real miracles from dolphin therapy. Some experts point out that certain groups, such as clinically depressed individuals, may become accustomed to the dolphins too much and may suffer severe setbacks as a result of their subsequent absence.
Dolphin Therapy: cost of therapy
The dolphin therapy is not associated with negligible costs, especially since it is neither supported by the health insurance nor subsidized. Although some clubs promote dolphin therapy in individual cases, there are still high costs for the families.
Depending on the provider, the form of therapy and the destination country, the costs of dolphin therapy can vary considerably. The range ranges from € 5, 000 to € 20, 000 or more for a family, as there are additional costs for flights, accommodation, meals and transfers.
Often, the different therapeutic approaches are reflected in the costs:
- While some dolphinariums allow only one parent and the child to swim with the dolphin, trained therapists and trainers work with animals and humans elsewhere; some therapy centers use one hour per unit, others only 20 minutes.
- At additional cost, additional procedures such as speech therapy, play therapy, physiotherapy or behavioral therapy are often offered.
- In addition, the cost of dolphin therapy may depend on the season.
TAD: Therapeutic Animatronic Dolphins
In recent writings Nathanson, the "father" of dolphin therapy, has confirmed that the same therapeutic success will be achieved with robots. These therapeutic animation dolphins, or TADs for short, are, according to the experts, in some cases even making greater progress than the living bottlenose dolphins.
Should this alternative prevail, the cost of dolphin therapy could eventually be reduced in the long term. In addition, the dolphin robots are not subject to any limited working time, whose introduction has recently been discussed.
Dolphin therapy as animal cruelty?
Especially animal rights activists are happy about TAD: A species-appropriate attitude of the highly sensitive and intelligent animals is not possible in captivity. Free-range dolphins are found in associations of up to 1, 000 animals at times, swimming between 60 and 100 kilometers per day and diving up to 500 meters deep.
In contrast, dolphins in captivity can not choose their partners, living in a small basin or separate marine area, must learn to eat dead fish. In addition, most are treated with drugs and hormones to prevent disease. Nevertheless, humans and dolphins in the basin can infect each other with existing diseases.
Because imprisonment for dolphins means great stress, it also happens time and again (due to aggressiveness or accidents) to injury to patients.