Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Will a $26M Robot Dolphin Replace Captive Animals in Aquariums and Theme Parks?

Will a $26M Robot Dolphin Replace Captive Animals in Aquariums and Theme Parks?
Swimming alongside an animatronic dolphin, a person learns about hydrodynamics. Edge Innovations

Life-sized, ultra-realistic robotic dolphins could help end animal captivity by replacing living creatures in aquariums and theme parks.

Edge Innovations, a New Zealand company that created of some of Hollywood's most famous animatronic animals from movies like "Free Willy" and "Flipper," has developed robot dolphins that look and act almost identical to their living counterparts. This is "bringing art and technology to life," its website says.

Edge hopes its designs will be used in movies and aquatic theme parks instead of living animals. If the idea is expanded, swimmers could dive with life-like robot dolphins, great white sharks, or even Jurrasic-era marine reptiles, The Independent reported.

According to The Guardian, the first phase of the prototype's development was sponsored by a Chinese development group that pledged in a statement to use the robotic animals instead of live ones in new aquariums being built.

Test audiences were unable to tell that the dolphin was not real, The Guardian reported. The model dolphin is controlled remotely by humans and can interact as a natural dolphin would.

"Everyone wants to know if using an animatronic dolphin is different than using a real dolphin, Roger Holzberg, Edge's creative director of their animatronics program, told Aljazeera. "The truth is, in many ways, they're the same."

But, because it is a robot, Edge's dolphin can also nod yes in response to a child, swim in a tiny tank in a mall or a chlorinated pool, and withstand very close contact that would be harmful to real animals, The Guardian reported.

"We realized that using animatronics instead of using live animals enabled us to create characters that truly were loveable, that could really deliver on the idea that we won't hurt what we fall in love with," Holzberg told Aljazeera.

Animatronics could also help bring back audiences turned off by aquatic parks using live animals and turn the industry around, reported Reuters.

"The marine park industry has had falling revenues for over a decade due to ethical concerns and the cost of live animals, yet the public hunger to learn about and experience these animals is still as strong as ever," Holzberg told The Guardian. "We believe that it's time to reimagine this industry and that this approach can be more humane, and more profitable at the same time."

The cost would be around $26.3 million per animal, four times the amount of a natural dolphin.

"We have to persuade [potential clients] that it is a profitable business, even more profitable than live animals," Li Wang, a business developer for Edge, told The Guardian. Wang pointed out that the robots do not require the same expensive caretaking or carefully monitored water temperatures as real dolphins do. Edge noted also that the robots will "outlive" their wild counterparts, who typically die within 20 years in captivity, the news report said. Wild dolphins live between 30 to 50 years.

According to Reuters, animal rights group PETA is in support and even held an event featuring the prototype dolphin.

PETA activist Katherine Sullivan told The Independent that the invention could help usher in the end of "cruel 'swim with dolphins' programs, for which young dolphins are traumatically abducted from their ocean homes and frantic mothers, sometimes illegally."

"In 2020, cutting-edge technology allows us to experience nature without harming it," PETA's UK director, Elisa Allen, told The Guardian.

Kevin Russ / Moment / Getty Images

By Kang-Chun Cheng

Modoc County lies in the far northeast corner of California, and most of its 10,000 residents rely on cattle herding, logging, or government jobs for employment. Rodeos and 4-H programs fill most families' calendars; massive belt buckles, blue jeans, and cowboy hats are common attire. Modoc's niche brand of American individualism stems from a free-spirited cowboy culture that imbues the local ranching conflict with wild horses.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Christian Aslund / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Anne-Sophie Brändlin

COVID-19 and climate change have been two of the most pressing issues in 2020.

Read More Show Less


Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo

By Victoria Masterson

Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.

Read More Show Less

By Brett Wilkins

Despite acknowledging that the move would lead to an increase in the 500 million to one billion birds that die each year in the United States due to human activity, the Trump administration on Friday published a proposed industry-friendly relaxation of a century-old treaty that protects more than 1,000 avian species.

Read More Show Less
U.S. returns create about 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. manonallard / Getty Images

Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.

Read More Show Less