The Robot Dolphin that Could Replace Captive Animals at Theme Parks One Day

An animatronic dolphin built by Edge Innovations is seen in a tank at the company’s warehouse in Fremont, California, U.S., September 30, 2020. Picture taken September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Nathan Frandino


A group of swimmers stand in the shallow of a pool, watching in awe as a dolphin darts around in the water.

But as much as the marine creature looks like those that jump through hoops and perform acrobatics at theme parks, this dolphin is unlike any other—it’s a robot!

“When I first saw the dolphin, I thought it could be real,” said a woman who swam with the remote-controlled creature.

Edge Innovations, a U.S. engineering company with an animatronic and special effects division in California, designed the dolphin, which starts at $3 million to $5 million.

It hopes that life-like animatronics used in Hollywood movies could one day entertain crowds at theme parks, instead of wild animals held in captivity. Swimmers could dive with robotic great white sharks or even reptiles that filled Jurassic-era seas millions of years ago.

Walt Conti, CEO of Edge Innovations, and the Robot dolphin could signal end of captive animals
Walt Conti, founder and CEO of Edge Innovations, uses a handheld controller to move an animatronic dolphin in a tank at the company's warehouse in Fremont, California, U.S., September 30, 2020. Picture taken September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Nathan Frandino

“There are, like, 3,000 dolphins currently in captivity being used to generate several billions of dollars just for dolphin experiences. And so there’s obviously an appetite to love and learn about dolphins,” said Edge Innovations founder and CEO Walt Conti.

“We want to use that appetite and offer kind of different ways to fall in love with the dolphin.”

Conti says that animatronics may bring back audiences turned off by parks using live animals.

Some 20 European countries have already banned or limited the presence of wild animals in circuses.

At Edge’s Hayward, California headquarters, its 250-kg, 2.5-meter animatronic dolphin with skin made from medical-grade silicone headlined a program for schools in partnership with TeachKind, part of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Edge also made the aquatic creatures used in Hollywood blockbusters “Free Willy,” “Deep Blue Sea,” and “Anaconda.”

“The idea of this pilot is really to create a kind of “Sesame Street” underwater,” said Roger Holzberg, creative director for Edge’s animatronic program.

“Those characters taught a generation how to feel about different kinds of aspects of humankind in ways that had never been imagined before. And that’s what we dream of with this project.”


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