Robotic dolphins could be an ethical and cost-effective alternative to keeping marine mammals in captivity. 

The robo-dolphin prototype was built by technicians at Edge Innovations, in collaboration with Walt Conti, the special effects guy behind movies like Free Willy and Flipper.

Designer and engineer Roger Holzberg says “It’s a lot of fun to swim with the robotic dolphin, because you can actually tell it what to do, and it’ll look at you and respond to you.”

Holzberg meticulously designed the dolphins to closely resemble the real thing, both inside and out. 

They weigh in at 600 pounds and swim in a way that most would find indiscernible from the real thing. 

“Inside (the) robot is a skeleton where the major elements look very much like a real dolphin,” Holzberg said. 

“The detail goes so far as to actually integrate fat bladders to be sure that the buoyancy and the feel of it when you actually touch it or move with it or bump against, it feels like its real-life counterpart.”

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Marine mammals do not thrive in captivity. Death rates for dolphins are higher in captivity than in the wild. Studies show that the extremely smart mammals can suffer psychologically when separated from their home. 

On the flip(per) side, the public’s interest in these animals is increasing. And, one of the best ways to raise awareness (and money) for conservation is by educating folks through unique experiences.

This is where the robo-dolphins can really make a difference. 

“We believe that there is a possible win-win for both the industry and for the educational initiatives to be able to create, really to reimagine, the kind of entertainment we do with those animals,” Holzberg said.

“I’ve always thought that the way that we preserve our world oceans is to get people to fall in love with them. And my hope and my dream is that children who interact with these dolphins will fall in love with the ocean and the creatures that live with them and will grow up to preserve them.”

Click here to watch the robots in action!