Dolphin-assisted therapy (DAT) has been growing in popularity during the past decade. Part of its increase in popularity are the studies that claim people suffering from chronic mental or physical disabilities benefit from the dolphin “healing” experience.
Lori Marino, Behavioral Biology Program, and Scott Lilienfeld, Department of Psychology, both of Emory University, reviewed 5 studies published during the past 8 years and found the claims for efficacy for DAT invalid. They reported in 1998 that all 5 studies were methodologically flawed and plagued by several threats to both internal and construct validity and there remains nearly a decade later no compelling evidence that DAT is a legitimate therapy, or that it affords any more than fleeting improvements in mood.
What alarms both researchers is the recent rise in the use of DAT with children with developmental disabilities. There is no good evidence that it is beneficial beyond making a child feel good in the short term. However, it can be putting the child at risk of harm. Although people are under the impression that dolphins would never harm a human the reality is that injury is a very real possibility when you place a child in a tank with a 400-pound wild animal that may be traumatized from being captured.