Meet the dolphin that could help end animal captivity

This robot dolphin looks almost identical to a living animal.

It can nod, swim in aquariums and withstand close contact with humans.

But this dolphin is not real, which makes it perfect for captivity.

It’s a 550-pound robot with medical grade silicone skin,

and it could be a cruelty-free game changer for marine parks

by giving them an alternative to capturing, breeding, and training live animals.

[Walt Conti, Edge Innovations, Founder and CEO]

“It’s surprising there are 3000 dolphins currently in captivity to generate several billion dollars just for dolphin experiences and so there’s obviously an appetite to love and learn about dolphins and so we want to use that appetite and offer different ways to fall in love with the dolphin.”

US company Edge Innovations is behind the idea.

Edge Innovations has developed animatronics used for Hollywood blockbusters

like “Free Willy,” “Deep Blue Sea,” and “The Abyss.”

Their team worked with marine biologists to study the physiology of dolphins to replicate the animals’ movements.

[Roger Holzberg, Edge Innovations, Creative Director]

“Everyone wants to know if using an animatronic dolphin is different to using a real dolphin. The truth is in many ways they’re the same. If you want to design a show that uses real dolphins you have to capture real dolphins, train them and get them to do that show. With creating robots you have to do exactly the same thing. The difference is you don’t have to have breeding programs, worry about safety with human beings.”

Edge Innovations has been a film industry regular since the early 90s,

but as moviemakers increasingly turn to computer-generated images,

the company has shifted focus to theme parks.

They’ve already found homes for robot dolphins in marine parks being built in China.

[Roger Holzberg, Edge Innovations, Creative Director]

“The idea of this pilot is really to create a Sesame Street under water. Those characters taught a generation how to feel about different kinds of aspects of humankind in ways that hadn’t been imagined before. And that’s what we dream of with this project.”

But these dolphins don’t come cheap.

With a price tag of about $26 million per dolphin, one obstacle for the creators will be proving that the robotic sea creatures will work out to be cheaper in the long run than the real thing.