Spanish dolphin trainer who committed suicide after his career went off the rails gets a Netflix documentary
The Last Dolphin King: Spanish trainer who took his own life when a video emerged of him kicking marine mammals was the ‘target of jealousy’ after landing a lucrative job at US aquarium claims Netflix documentary
- Trainer Jose Luis Barbero committed suicide after being accused of abusing dolphins
- Video circulated by marine animal advocates went viral and he was hated
- He was found dead in Majorca after getting a job at the Georgia Aquarium
- A Netflix documentary examines the events leading up to his death in 2015
- The show, titled The Last Dolphin King, comes out on November 25
A once-celebrated Spanish aquarium trainer who committed suicide in 2015 after being accused of abusing dolphins has become the subject of a new Netflix documentary.
Jose Luis Barbero had landed a prestigious job at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta when a video surfaced showing him kicking and punching a dolphin at an aquarium on the Spanish island of Majorca, where he had worked since the late 1980s.
Shortly after becoming the focus of a campaign by animal rights activists, the 59-year-old received death threats and later went missing. Days later, he was found dead in a car parked outside Mallorca’s airport.
Now his story is being told in a Netflix documentary titled The Last Dolphin King, out November 25.
Dolphin trainer Jose Luis Barbero, who had just been hired by the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, went missing and was then found dead
Barbero’s story is told in a Netflix documentary titled The Last Dolphin King, out November 25.
Barbero had been with Marineland in Mallorca for some 30 years when he was offered a job in the US in 2015 as senior vice president at the esteemed Georgia Aquarium.
The lucrative new job established him as one of the most respected and prolific dolphin trainers in the world, but also made him a target of jealousy, the new Netflix documentary suggests.
A montage of surveillance footage taken from an apartment building near Marineland in Mallorca appeared to show Barbero manhandling a dolphin during a training exercise.
The footage was promoted by SOSdelfines – a group that aims to expose the mistreatment of dolphins in captivity – and went viral. It was reported by news organizations around the world.
In the documentary, the group’s president said, “The fact that the dolphins were trained in such an aggressive, violent way shocked and hurt me.
“Jose Luis was responsible. Those events took place under his supervision.’
Before videos of 59-year-old Barbero went missing, dolphins reportedly surfacing on the internet
He took to Facebook at the time to defend himself against the onslaught of criticism.
In a translated post, he said: “I believe a response is needed to this ruthless and cowardly campaign against my profession.
“I can only say on the recommendation of my lawyers that this video is a montage created to provoke a campaign that has challenged my professionalism for 35 years.”
His wife Mari Gracia said during the documentary that the threats and controls took their toll.
Barbero then went missing in March 2015 and was not seen for days after leaving his home in Majorca. The emergency in the Balearic Islands started a major search to find him.
Mike Leven, CEO of Georgia Aquarium, said at the time: “We are very concerned. We hope he shows up soon and that everything is okay. Our thoughts are with him and his family.’
Days later he was found dead in his car in the parking lot of Mallorca airport.
Barbero’s wife Mari Gracia said during the documentary that the threats and scrutiny took a toll on him
Barbero had just been offered a position as vice president at the prestigious Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta
A statement from the Atlanta attraction’s management sent to Fox 5 after his death paid tribute to the expert trainer and accused people of rushing to judge him.
“It is with sadness, outrage and frustration that I received the news this morning that Jose Luis Barbero has been found dead in Spain.
‘Initial reports suggest that he may have taken his own life. He was a husband, father and grandfather who devoted nearly four decades to caring for animals.
“We at Georgia Aquarium were proud to have him serve periodically as a consultant to our organization over the past eight years. His service to us was exemplary.’
Barbero’s wife Mari Gracia, who appeared in the documentary, said the threats took their toll on the trainer
Those in the documentary argued that Barbero was targeted because of the notoriety he gained after getting the job, while others defending him claimed the footage was faked.
Former colleague Javier Gutierrez said the campaign against him was motivated by “hate and revenge” and said activists were after his career.
“They really picked the right time to release it,” he said in the film.
“It was when Jose Luis Barbero signed the contract with Georgia Aquarium, so he was already in the United States. They thought hard about how to do the most damage.’