The famous Spanish dolphin trainer Jose Luis Barbero, who had worked as a dolphin trainer at various aquariums and water parks for more than three decades, met a tragic end in March 2015 with an unexpected turn of events.
At the beginning of the same year, 59-year-old Barbero was working at Marineland Mallorca ahead of a big move to the US. He had finally landed a job as vice president of the Georgia Aquarium. However, days before his departure from the Balearic island, a 99-second-long video sent shockwaves through the world of animal activism.
The footage, released by the animal activist group SOSdelfines, showed a person alleged to be Jose Luis Barbero hitting and kicking the dolphins he was training. Social media erupted with outrage, and Barbero began to receive death threats in response to the disturbing video.
Barbero took to his Facebook page to address the accusations, writing:
“I believe a response is needed to this brutal and cowardly campaign against my profession. I can only say from my lawyers’ recommendations that this video is a montage created to provoke a campaign challenging my professionalism over 35 years.”
Later, a spokesperson for SOSdelfines stated that the footage was obtained from concerned neighbors and released to expose the mistreatment of captive animals. Tensions escalated as the ethics of animal theme parks came under scrutiny. The Georgia Aquarium, where Barbero had been set to assume a high-ranking position, launched an investigation into the allegations.
Experts were brought in to analyze the footage and determine if Barbero was indeed the person depicted. Even a former FBI agent was assigned to the case and traveled to Spain for a thorough examination.
Sadly, the pressure took a tragic toll on the trainer. A few days after his disappearance, Barbero’s body was found in Spain on March 7, 2015. The cause of death was reported as suicide.
The question of whether Barbero had abused the dolphins remains unanswered. In an attempt to go into the man behind the controversy, a documentary titled ‘The Last Dolphin King’ was released on Netflix on November 25, 2022. The film explores Barbero’s 35-year career, featuring interviews with his colleagues, friends, and family, as well as animal activists, marine park industry figures, and journalists.
You can see the trailer below.