The Georgia Aquarium is coming to the defense of a dolphin trainer who was found dead in car Saturday, blaming a social media campaign that accused Jose Luis Barbero of cruel acts against the dolphins in his care for driving the Spanish trainer to suicide.
Barbero was set to take a job as vice president of the Georgia Aquarium, but last month a series of grainy videos began circulating on social media that allegedly showed trainers kicking and punching several dolphins. The online campaign claimed that Barbero was one of the trainers shown abusing the highly intelligent aquatic mammals.
The Georgia Aquarium denied that Barbero was seen in the videos, which have been described as unclear and hard to interpret. Nonetheless, the aquarium decided to delay hiring Jose Luis Barbero while it investigated the allegations.
Then, on Tuesday, Barbero mysteriously disappeared.
Several days later, the dolphin trainer’s body was found in his car in an airport parking lot on the Spanish island of Mallorca, where Barbero was a dolphin trainer at a Marineland aquarium. Police are investigating his death as a suicide, CNN reported Saturday.
Barbero’s Spanish employer denied that the trainer abused dolphins and now plans to bring a legal action against the animal rights activists who identified him as one of the abusers.
According to CNN, the murky videos appear to show human beings, presumably dolphin trainers, making rapid motions in the direction of the animals, but whether they are actually landing blows on the dolphins is not immediately certain from the online images.
Georgia Aquarium CEO Mike Leven issued a statement expressing “outrage” over Barbero’s death.
“After allegations were levied against (Barbero), we took the situation very seriously. Georgia Aquarium began a search for truth in hopes of disproving these unsubstantiated claims,” Leven said. “Sadly, he and his family received death threats, and groups and individuals rushed to judge him. He was not given the right or the privilege to be considered innocent until proven guilty, a principle I hold dear. His death is untimely, unnecessary and unjust.”
The CEO also defended Barbero last month when the videos first surfaced online, questioning their authenticity, saying that the videos were “crudely edited” and “extremely questionable.”
Leven accused animal rights activists and others of having “tortured him with enough hatred to cause him to allegedly take his own life,” adding that the aquarium had not yet completed its inquiry into the allegations of cruelty to dolphins when the well-known dolphin trainer was found dead.
[Image: WSB-TV Screen Grab]