A growing number of people have voiced their opposition to the use of dolphins in theme park presentations, arguing that it is inhumane and unnecessary to keep dolphins in captivity (via World Animal Protection). Further, the same holds true for the methods and showmanship used to train dolphins.
According to The Dodo, dolphin trainer Jose Luis Barbero was hired by the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta in 2015. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said that Barbero, a Spanish native who worked in Atlanta, had extensive professional expertise. Both in the 1980s and the 2000s, he was employed at Marineland Mallorca. Dolphins in Aqualand Costa Adeje were taught by Barbero as well.
A new Netflix documentary explores the underbelly of the dolphin-training profession through the lens of one of the industry’s most prominent trainers’ untimely demise in 2015.
The Last Dolphin King, about the downfall of a Spanish dolphin trainer named Jose Luis Barbero, is a must-see for fans of Netflix’s My Octopus Teacher and Blackfish.
Filmmakers Luis Ansorena Herves and Ernest Riera explore the entire tale of the contentious practise, including what happened to Barbero. The film had its world premiere at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in early 2022.
For example, “there’s a lot of jealousy in this job… you never know who might stab you in the back,” as the video puts it. As for Barbero, what ended up happening?
What Happened to The Last Dolphin King, José Luis Barbero?
The early years of Jose Luis Barbero’s career were unremarkable. Mari Garcia, his current wife, has said that the couple met while she was working as a waitress at Marineland in Mallorca, Spain. If Jose’s shift ended late, he’d linger at the park to watch the other trainers interact with the dolphins. He developed a passion for the role and decided to make it his career.
Eventually, Jose rose to prominence as a leading dolphin trainer. The programme makes special notice of the fact that people travelled from far and wide to watch the dolphin show he developed and performed at Marineland. Keep in mind that once the new owners took over Marineland, Jose still worked there as a dolphin trainer. His work ethic remained unabated despite the new management’s tough conditions, as depicted in the show.
When news of Jose’s achievements began to travel throughout the world, he was finally given the acclaim he deserved. At the start of 2015, he received an extremely generous offer to serve as the Vice President of the Georgia Aquarium. Former CEO Mike Leven of the Georgia Aquarium claimed they had decided on Jose after interviewing a huge number of potential applicants. Mike claims that Jose is widely regarded as the best in his department and an invaluable asset to the firm.
How Did Jose Luis Barbero Die?
The Georgia Aquarium reportedly spent some time investigating the tape and retained the services of a specialist to provide context for what was seen. An ex-FBI agent was also invited in and sent to Spain to do more investigation.
Returning to his native Spain, Jose and his wife have set up residence on the island of Mallorca. According to Mari, he didn’t say much at the time since he was in a lot of emotional anguish and anxiety, and she understood. Nonetheless, she was keeping her fingers crossed that the Georgia Aquarium probe would silence the whispers and revive her husband’s career.
Unfortunately, Jose vanished from his home in the early days of March 2015. The investigation was never able to find out what happened to him. After Mari reported her trainer missing, officials on the Balearic Islands quickly formed a search party to patiently comb the region for any sign of the man. The search was exhaustive, with authorities employing multiple aircraft and every other resource at their disposal.
Mari’s greatest suspicions were confirmed on March 7, 2015, when her husband’s death was discovered in the automobile he had been driving in the Palma de Majorca airport parking lot. His death was investigated by the police, but the documentary revealed that they concluded he took his own life.
Jose Luis Barbero Went Missing
“I can only say from the recommendations of my lawyers that this video is a montage created to provoke a campaign challenging my professionalism over 35 years,” Jose Luis Barbero wrote on Facebook in response to the video’s release, as translated by The Dodo.
He also told Spanish media that his former co-workers were behind the video. CNN notes that they were unable to confirm the authenticity of the tape because Barbero’s face was not clearly visible.
However, according to a second report published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Barbero’s employment at the Georgia Aquarium was suspended while the facility investigated the abuse allegations. CNN reports that the aquarium was sceptical as well and did not believe the footage to be real.
Former FBI agent was hired and dispatched to Spain to investigate Barbero and the video. In any case, Barbero disappeared without a trace, leaving his Mallorcan home without ever returning. A second video, purportedly showing Barberbo abusing dolphins, was posted online two days after the first (via WSB-TV). Subsequently, a massive ground, air, and sea search for Barbero was launched with no success.
Animal Rights Extremists Were Accused of Killing Him
Jose Luis Barbero was found dead in his automobile in a parking area at the Palma de Mallorca Airport in March of 2015. (via CNN). The authorities have stated that Barbero, 59, committed suicide, although they have not disclosed the manner of death.
“Georgia Aquarium began a search for truth in hopes of disproving these unsubstantiated claims,” said Mike Leven of the Georgia Aquarium, in a statement reported by WSB-TV. “Sadly, (Barbero) and his family received death threats, and groups and individuals rushed to judge him. He was not given the right or the privilege to be considered innocent until proven guilty… His death is untimely, unnecessary, and unjust.”
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Leven’s views that “activists” had “tortured” Barbero contributed to his breakdown. Following his passing, the Georgia Aquarium ceased their probe. The company Marineland Mallorca released its own statement in which it declared its support for Barbero.
Company officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “We will continue helping the Police and Legal Authorities to clarify the events in order to help cleanse any responsibility arising therefrom, in defence of truth and the memory of Jose Luis.” This came after CNN reported that the theme park wanted to take legal action against those who had accused Barbero of misconduct at the time of his death.
The Last Dolphin King is currently streaming on Netflix.