‘The Last Dolphin King’ Ending, Explained: A Dolphin Abuser Or A Persistent Trainer?

“The Last Dolphin King” is a Netflix documentary about José Luis Barbero, a Spanish dolphin trainer who was accused of animal abuse in his training. The Netflix documentary provides an account of Barbero’s career of 35 years and his shocking demise in 2015. Was he actually responsible for the abusive behavior, or was he being targeted for his success in the industry? 

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Spoilers Ahead


Who Was José Luis Barbero? 

In 1972, Barbero met his wife, Mari Garcia, in Majorca, where he worked at a restaurant. He was an efficient and hardworking person. He was fascinated by dolphins and would often spend his time looking at them after his shift. Roberto Bennett, the ex-director of Marineland, asked him one day out of curiosity if he liked dolphins, and he responded by saying, “Yes, I would love to be a dolphin trainer.” He started working as a cleaner for fish buckets and later got the opportunity to train a sea lion. He used to work for long hours and started practicing water exercises. He was lucky enough to learn from the best trainers of that time. Barbero worked as an assistant for Kees De Groot, and the head trainer was Markus Johann. In a span of two months, he did his own show, at which he failed terribly, but it was the start of an amazing journey. Barbero is defined as a perfectionist and would perform the most difficult exercises. 

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IMATA was an international association for dolphin trainers, though it mostly had American trainers. Barbero decided to win the “best show” award at the IMATA. He traveled around the world, watching every dolphin show that existed. In 1990, in Chicago, he presented his video at the IMATA conference. The people judged him even before he presented the video but were amazed by the end. His video had 42 exercises in 30 minutes. They had won in a landslide. Their act was awarded the best dolphin show, and Barbero was awarded the title of the world’s best trainer. It was the first international achievement for dolphin training in Europe, especially in Majorca. In the 1990s, Spain was hit by an economic crisis, and the Marineland lease was about to expire. They decided to buy the land, but it was already sold to Aspro. Aspro Parks was a franchise of waterparks. Everything changed within a year, and Barbero was fired from his job; he wasn’t even allowed to enter the park. He would often cry at night at the thought of being unable to see his dolphins and would secretly visit the park after hours to meet the dolphins. He was too emotionally attached to the dolphins and even tried committing suicide. His wife explains how good he was at hiding his emotions.

In 1993, he got an opportunity to work with the dolphins again, and he designed his own dolphinarium. He had it all planned; his dolphinarium was the most modern dolphinarium in Spain, providing the dolphin’s utmost veterinary care. The United States has decided to ban the export of marine animals, so Barbero decided to import dolphins from Cuba. The transportation was 18 hours long, but the dolphins made it. They had bought six dolphins from Cuba, and within a month, four of them were pregnant. This meant huge success for the company, the park, and especially for Barbero.

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In 1996, his dolphinarium was the best in Spain and caught the attention of Aspro. They decided to buy the park, and Barbero was nervous about Aspro coming back into his life. He feared he would lose his job, but he didn’t; Aspro never intended to fire him. They had no other trainer who was capable of replacing Barbero. The world was protesting against dolphinariums, and Barbero made a smart move by starting dolphin therapy for special children. It was surprising how patient he was with children and how calmly he engaged with them. Mostly, he was the trainer who engaged in the sessions and provided them without any charge; he felt he did some good for those children and their families.

In 2013, the company asked Barbero to move back to Majorca, the same place he was fired from before. He was bummed to leave but eventually moved back and expressed his concerns about the dolphinarium with the company. He was a tough trainer and didn’t get along with the team. The training was tough, but the results were visible. The team wasn’t in favor of Barbero’s behavior with the team or the dolphins. An incident happened where a girl who dreamed of becoming a dolphin trainer was humiliated by Barbero and almost fainted during her training sessions. She filed a complaint with the manager but was fired from the company. They only cared about the show. The girl who was fired was angry about the management’s decision and wanted revenge on Barbero.

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Barbero grew up in a small town in Salamanca. As a child, he would train dogs, and the dogs obeyed him. His mother died when he was a child, and his father left him with his aunt and grandmother for another woman. When he was around 11 years old, his grandmother died, and his father tried to take him away. He left his house and disappeared for a week. He took a train and got off at the first station. Maybe he disappeared this time as well when he was accused of animal abuse and saw his life falling apart, or was he dead?


The Accusations Against Barbero

In 2015 a video of Barbero was released where he was abusing the dolphins during training. He was found using vulgar language and hitting the animal physically in the video. The video went viral at a time when people were already protesting against the concept of dolphinariums. At that point, he had recently been appointed as the Vice President of Georgia Aquariums, which was the third-largest aquarium globally and the largest at the time. His happiness was short-lived, as, after the viral video, his whole career was at stake. The video made headlines, and Barbero and his family started receiving death threats on social media. Was he really responsible for the aggressive training of the dolphins? He had been known as a perfectionist and was brutal when training with other trainers. He would spare no one, not even his own children; he expected a lot of effort during the training. Barbero came back to Spain after the incident. He would spend most of his time replaying the video, trying to figure it out. He realized that the video had been forged, and an investigation began. Somebody had tried to target him. 

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Mike Leven, CEO of the Georgia Aquarium, stood with Barbero and hired an FBI investigator. The video was proven to be manipulated, it had been shot from an apartment outside the park, and it was impossible for sound to travel from that distance. The investigators fixed a meeting with Carla Cornella, President of FAADA/SOS Delfines (an organization for animal defense), regarding the issue; she claimed that the footage had been simply edited into a shorter video and had not been manipulated. In 2014, they received a package of seven hours of footage from Marineland Majorca where animals were abused and decided to maintain the confidentiality of the source. Barbero had disappeared shortly after the meeting.

The people who shot the video remained anonymous for seven years but decided to reveal their identities for the documentary. V, an activist, learned about animal abuse in Marineland. She decided to investigate if the information was true. K, another activist, decided to help her out, though he was a minor at the time. They decided to install a surveillance camera in the neighborhood building and rented a video camera. After collecting enough proof, they contacted various associations; SOS Defines was the first one to use the material. The footage had been shot over a period of time and was let out at the perfect moment. It was majorly questioned whether the whole issue was about dolphins or if it was about targeting Barbero. 

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‘The Last Dolphin King’ Ending Explained – Was He Guilty Or Targeted? 

V revealed that the person who had informed her about animal abuse at Marineland was an ex-employee of Marineland. She had targeted Barbero and had enough proof to prove that Barbero had been mistreating the dolphins. Barbero was fired by Aspro because of the allegations raised against him. Barbero was found dead at the Palma de Majorca airport; he had committed suicide and had been dead for around one or two days. Even after his death, there was hatred for him among people around the world. His wife wasn’t able to go out for years; she was ashamed of her husband’s actions. Barbero’s son quit working at the dolphinarium. Barbero’s actions truly impacted his family. Marineland had installed panels to reduce the visibility of the park after the release of the video. The former Marine employee refused to be a part of the documentary. The real question here is: if it wasn’t for revenge against Barbero, would the trainers still be exposed to animal abuse? Marineland still holds those dolphins. It truly makes us question the sanity of holding an animal captive. 


“The Last Dolphin King” is a 2022 documentary film directed by Ernest Riera and Luis Ansorena Hervés.

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Mehak Arora
Mehak Arora
Mehak is a media student currently pursuing her masters in audio and visual production. She is a film enthusiast. She loves to travel. She is a photographer and loves to write about films.

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