Dolphin Therapy: Whether You’re Pregnant, in a Wheelchair, or Have a Disability Such as Autism, Cerebral Palsy or Rhett Syndrome

For decades we’ve heard how dolphins seem to want to communicate with humans. Boaters on the open seas attest to how dolphins approach and even follow their crafts, leaping and playing while “talking” to them. And many of us are familiar with the 1964 television show about a precocious pet dolphin named “Flipper.” But swimming with dolphins has been proven to be quite therapeutic for us, whether we are depressed, depend on a wheelchair, or have a disability such as Autism, Rhett Syndrome, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Cerebral Palsy or ADHS. And even if we’re merely pregnant, dolphins can provide great therapy for the child in our womb.

Besides their “human-like” personality, dolphins are quite intelligent. Using a specialized type of sonar system known as “dolphin echolocation,” they emit broad band signals (clicks) of varying frequencies. They then listen to the echo produced using sensitive directional hearing.

In fact, the U.S. Navy has been training dolphins to find objects on the seafloor and mark them with a floating buoy for years, according to National Public Radio (NPR). In one instance, because Iraq laid several thousand underwater mines in the first Gulf War, U.S. Navy ships operating in the Persian Gulf faced an unseen threat from underwater mines. Who came to their rescue by detecting them? Dolphins! Trained dolphins also detected World War II-era mines off the Norwegian coast in 2002 and even guarded the Navy’s flagship in Bahrain in 1986 and 1987. More information is available in the January 28, 2003 NPR article, “Hunting for Mines,” by Eric Niiler at

But dolphin calls are also good for pregnant women’s fetuses, according to scientists in Lima, Peru. They believe dolphins’ ultrasonic emissions benefit unborn children by stimulating brain activity while the fetus is still developing. Therefore, dolphins have been trained to swim close to pregnant women and emit their calls. Some even “kiss” the women on their lips or stomach. In Spanish-speaking countries, this practice is known as delfinoteprepia, or dolphin therapy.

Swimming with dolphins appears to be an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression, according to new U.K. research. “Researchers assessed levels of anxiety and depression in volunteers diagnosed with mild or moderate depression before and after their daily encounters with dolphins, by measuring saliva levels of cortisol, a stress indicator, as well as endorphins, which are neuropeptides that promote calm. They saw lower cortisol levels and higher endorphin levels after dolphin encounters.

“All the patients discontinued antidepressant drugs or psychotherapy at least four weeks before entering the study, and were not allowed to take drugs during it. Depression scores were measured before the study and at the end of treatment.”

And an article in the UK News Life Style Extra, “Swimming with Dolphins Banishes the Blues” says: “This suggests that in patients with mild or moderate depression, using drugs or conventional psychotherapy may not be necessary when biophilic treatment with animals is used. The findings support the theory of biophilia, a term coined by psychologist Erich Fromm, to describe how human health and well being are dependent on our relationships with the natural environment. Biophilia includes the bonds autistic children seem able to form with dolphins in natural settings.”

Texas Woman’s University’s “Project Inspire” explains that, “Dolphin-assisted therapy dates back to the 1950s and the work of Dr. John Lilly, who studied the effects of dolphins on individuals with disabilities. Researchers now attribute the diminishing of anxiety and depression, enhanced learning in handicapped children and pain relief to dolphin echolocation.”

Just being in the water has a therapeutic affect for people with disabilities, they explain, but dolphins have been cited as having special capabilities that enhance healing potential in people with disabilities. For those dependent on wheelchairs, dolphin therapy provides a freedom of movement that is otherwise not experienced. For in-depth information on how and why dolphin therapy works, go to

In conclusion, whether you are pregnant, dependent on a wheelchair, or have a disability, consider swimming with a dolphin for therapy. There are dolphin therapy clinics throughout the country. For example, the Dolphin Research Center in Florida, which works on cognitive and behavioral research projects, holds a “Special Needs 5 Day Program,” incorporating activities for people with disabilities

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