The Last Dolphin King: who was Spanish dolphin trainer Jose Luis Barbero in Netflix doc - and how did he die?

Netflix documentary The Last Dolphin King follows the events leading up to the death of a dolphin trainer in 2015

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Netflix documentary The Last Dolphin King follows the incredible 35 year career of the Spanish dolphin trainer Jose Luis Barbero, his rapid downfall and death in 2015. The trainer became embroiled in conversy over an animal rights row which brought his career, and then his life, to an end.

The Last Dolphin KingThe Last Dolphin King
The Last Dolphin King

What is The Last Dolphin King about?

The feature length documentary hears from family, friends and colleagues of Jose Barbero, a respected dolphin trainer who came under scrutiny over allegations of animal abuse. The Spanish trainer worked with animals for over 30 years but his career was brought down by a damning video.

The documentary explores Barbero’s career, including his high-profile appointment to the role of main dolphin trainer and senior vice president at Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta - a position which caused a major backlash from animal rights activists and led to his downfall.

However, following Barbero’s death, doubts have been raised about how he was characterised by the animal rights activist’s campaign and whether he was actually wrongfully targeted.

How did Jose Luis Barbero die?

Barbero took up the position at Georgia Aquarium in early 2015, and it should have been the trainer’s dream job. However, shortly after his appointment, a video was widely shared which seemed to show Barbero kicking and hitting a dolphin at Marineland aquarium in Mallorca.

The president of animal rights group SOSdelfines 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 watch.”

Barbero had worked at Marineland since the late 1980s and the video cast a shadow over his long career and was reported by news outlets around the world. He became a target of a campaign by animal rights activists and he and his family began receiving death threats. According to his wife, the whole ordeal took a significant toll on him.

The Last Dolphin King The Last Dolphin King
The Last Dolphin King

Then Barbero went missing and a search operation took place - he was found days later dead in a car outside Mallorca airport. The 59 year old had apparently taken his own life.

The Netflix documentary raises questions over the authenticity of the video that was used to discredit Barbero, as some believed that he had been the victim of a campaign of jealousy. After the video was released, Barbero took to Facebook to defend himself.

He wrote: “I can only say from my lawyers’ recommendations that this video is a montage created to provoke a campaign challenging my professionalism over 35 years.”

One of Barbero’s friends, Daniel Juarez, a fellow dolphin trainer, featured in the documentary to defend his late colleague. He said that the dolphins had a bond with Barbero and would often wait for him to arrive. Juarez suggested that Barbero was not popular among some trainers because he expected them to carry out physically demanding work to put on the dolphin shows.

When is The Last Dolphin King on Netflix?

The Last Dolphin King was released on Netflix on Friday 25 November.