MALCOLM J BRENNER, AUTHOR, JOURNALIST AND EX-DOLPHIN HANDLER, REVIEWS THE PERFECT PAIR: THE ENCHANTED MIRROR
CliBook Review: The Perfect Pair, Book I: The Enchanted Mirror. By David C. Holroyd and Tracy J. Holroyd. 2012, Matador Press.
Being a dolphin trainer looks like a glamorous job, as Ric O’Barry could tell you. He trained dolphins for the mid-1960’s TV show Flipper, which was dubbed into dozens of languages and became a world-wide hit. Rightly or wrongly, O’Barry now blames himself for the current plague of dolphin exploitation, including the proliferation of swim-with-dolphin facilities and oceanariums that are pillaging wild populations.
In reality, dolphin-training is a difficult, demanding, often-dangerous job that is guaranteed to break your heart. The “why” becomes obvious in The Enchanted Mirror, the first book in a trilogy chronicling the career of one “David Capello,” the stage name of a dolphin trainer who worked for an unnamed entertainment company in 1970’s England.
Is the book fiction or a memoir? I’m not quite clear. The foreword writer describes it as “a true story,” but co-author Tracy Holroyd, who wrote it with her brother David, told me they fictionalized Capello’s story for legal reasons (like I did with my human-dolphin love novel Wet Goddess). Does it matter? No, because his story reflects what former trainers like O’Barry and SeaWorld’s John Hargrove have revealed about the job.
We open with Capello in the middle of a performance with Duchess and Herb’e, his “perfect pair,” two dolphins who can synchronize their moves flawlessly, and we find that he’s directing them by… thinking? Flashback to Capello, a callow 17-year-old, hearing his mom suggest he apply as an assistant at a dolphin show. Although disinterested, he somehow gets the job and goes to work at a training facility, improbably located in a grimy coal-mining town.
The first reality Capello encounters is unwanted animals: a pair of messy penguins and a dangerous sea lion. He gets so friendly with the pinniped that, after a drunken binge, he ends up sleeping in its cage! When confronted by an irate local whose parking space he’s taken, Capello experiences weirdness: the sea lion comes to his defense. “For the oddest moment,” he relates, “it seemed as though I were looking in a mirror; then I felt all my aggression seeping away and saw it – actually saw it – filling up those big green eyes.”
This is the first time he experiences what he calls a connection with other species, and when the first pair of dolphins show up for training, the feeling is amplified.
“Aren’t you beautiful? I thought. I reached out and, as my hand made contact with this strangely different creature of the sea, my nervy excitement began to dissipate, leaving in its wake a sense of peace and calm. I felt something: a connection of some kind that made me feel light-headed. It was as if she was stealing my strength, leaving me feeling weak and disoriented, yet I couldn’t break free of her spell. I was totally and utterly captivated.
“This animal was giving off some serious vibes.”
Here, Capello joins a very select group of humans, including me, O’Barry, New Zealand trainer Frank Robson, former U.S. Navy scientist Michael Greenwood and a few others who claim to have been touched by the dolphins in a remarkable way: mentally. But let us leave this improbability momentarily to continue Capello’s story.
By this point all the major forces are in play which will, I suspect, sustain the story through three volumes. Capello rapidly becomes very possessive of Duchess and Herb’e, thinking of them as his dolphins, when in reality they belong to the megalithic company that issues his paychecks. The fact that other trainers can’t get them to perform makes no difference. Young, hard-working and sometimes just dumb lucky, Capello soon finds himself running the dolphin training operation and confronting all the problems which the commoditization and exploitation of sentient non-human species creates.
When the “perfect pair” aren’t up to performing eight shows on holidays, a second team of dolphins must be imported, one of whom turns out to have been traumatized in capture. Capello describes in agonizing detail the enormous stress of capturing her twice a day and trying to force-feed her. When the filtration system can’t handle the amount of waste in the water, he risks the wrath of management by dumping the tank and refilling it. When the show finally opens to the public, a woman trainer steals the limelight by disrobing for the cameras of the Fleet Street tabloids… and so on.
During all this time, Capello also recounts the colorful and sometimes creepy people he roomed with. He recalls his work as a trainer so clearly and vividly that I wonder if he kept a private journal, or had copies of the individual dolphins’ logbooks to work from.
Capello ends The Enchanted Mirror with himself ascendant, Duchess and Herb’e working as the perfect pair and a second duo, including one unfortunate dolphin blinded in shipping, as back-up performers. He feels on top of the world until he learns that a third pair of dolphins are being sent to him for training... a couple ominously known as Bonnie and Clyde.
Stand by for Vol. II: The Mirror Cracks.
Fiction it may (or may not) be, The Perfect Pair is one of the best and most authentic books I’ve ever read about the realities of dolphin training. The Holroyd siblings manage to convey all the aspects of the job, be they boring, funny, horrifying or wonderful. Although their writing is very good, I had a couple of minor quibbles. While most of the story is told in past tense it occasionally shifts into present tense, Capello talking to himself during the more extreme chapters. Tracy Holroyd described this as a deliberate technique to engage the reader, but I found it disconcerting. Also, a disturbing scene of some poltergeist-like nocturnal activity in the oceanarium raises questions that aren’t answered in this volume.
Historically, tales involving human-dolphin interaction don’t end well for the dolphins. This goes all the way back to Pliny the Elder, who in the 1st Century CE wrote in amazement of a dolphin who visited the now-Tunisian city of Hippo Diarrhytus. Alas, the creature’s friendly nature attracted many wealthy visitors. “At last, the vexations that were caused them by having to entertain so many influential men who came to see this sight, compelled the people of Hippo to put the animal to death,” Pliny wrote. So, while I have a dark feeling about how the Holroyds’ telling of Capello’s tale will end, fascination and professional interest compel me to continue. Ignorance is not bliss, particularly when you’ve gotten as close to one of these creatures as I have.
And what about that mysterious feeling of “connection” that Capello describes, the ability to train and direct dolphins with his mind? This is one of those things that gets discussed in back rooms at marine mammal conferences. A lot of trainers report it; I know, because I’ve spoken to some. Scientists generally dismiss telepathy and other such paranormal phenomena as preposterous notions, the product of superstition or delusions. Well, I may have been stoned when I was communicating with my dolphin, Dolly, but I’m not stupid. I doubted the experiences at the time and thought I was literally going crazy later on, but it turns out I wasn’t: I’m not the only one who’s had a dolphin get into his mind.
I can’t begin to explain how they do it, but consider this: We humans have been in our present form on Earth, Homo sapiens, for about 150,000 years. That’s not even a blink in time. Dolphins, on the other hand, have been in their present form for at least 12 million years, or 80 times longer than we have. They not only have a vast history of survival, but they’ve been self-aware all that time and able to explore their consciousness. Isn’t it possible they’ve figured out some things about mind and the nature of reality that we haven’t?
The Perfect Pair will give you one man’s insight into their world as he encountered it, but if you find yourself buying the whole trilogy, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
(Malcolm J. Brenner is the author of the 2010 novel Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover and two other books. He lives in Punta Gorda, Fla.)
CORONATION STREET STAR, WILLIAM ROACHE MBE, AKA KEN BARLOW, WRITES FOREWORD FOR THE PERFECT PAIR: THE ENCHANTED MIRROR
This is a remarkable and heart-warming true story of dedication, devotion and love, overriding normal barriers and allowing one young man to make extraordinary achievements with two dolphins, and to have close contact with many others.
There is a move afoot to classify whales and dolphins as non-human beings. That to kill them would be murder. This indicates the high intelligence, understanding and feelings that these animals have… they have a soul.
What David found through his love and understanding of dolphins was a natural means of communication. It was two way, and the dolphins wanted the contact, enabling them to learn quickly and enjoy the thrill of performing. To David this was just a natural way of doing things - as indeed it is to the animal kingdom - and David developed his telepathic communications and his psychic abilities through working so closely with these wonderful animals.
This is a moving story, beautifully told, carrying the reader effortlessly through the joys and heartbreaks of one young man’s selfless devotion as he struggles to bring out the best in his dolphins and achieve the impossible.
I read the book in one sitting and was often near to tears, but there was an overriding feeling of joy.
A huge thank you to June Bird Killington of SeaWorld SHUT DOWN for inviting me to write a blog for her many Australian supporters.
I am known by many in the captive cetacean business as David Capello (not my real name, but an old stage name), and I am the ex-trainer featured in the controversial, award-winning book series, The Perfect Pair Dolphin Trilogy - an exposé that is suffering a full UK media block.
Unlike many other well-known trainers, my apprenticeship started in the UK training pens – a little-known facility, now infamous for producing hard-nosed trainers.
In the late 60s/early 70s, handlers like myself were on the cutting-edge of training techniques, responsible for breaking-in raw dolphins for a new and powerful entertainment scene – commercial dolphinaria.
All trainers employed in these pens were sworn to secrecy, keeping tight-lipped about the multitude of horrors they were forced to witness. None of these trainers have ever had the courage to speak publicly about what they were involved in … until now.
My whistle-blowing decision has cost me dearly - abandoned by my one-time friends and colleagues, vilified by many anti-captivity activists and shunned by ALL the big-name animal charities.
Despite this, I remain passionate about telling my story and evermore determined to expose the vile captive cetacean industry for what it truly is. Don’t fall for the glamour and glitz of the corporate powerhouses that run global dolphinaria … they have been lying for at least 45 years to my knowledge.
Although my story is now viewed as historic, the horrors of modern-day dolphinaria are in fact even worse than they were in my day, as affirmed by the testimony of many latter-day ex-trainers.
And so, to finish, a message to activists:
If you want to destroy this industry, you need to know the facts. I see many well-meaning social media posts that are wrongly interpreted, destroying activist credibility – a flaw that pro-captivity campaigners will exploit. Only when able to support debate with valid fact will you stand any chance of ending this ongoing abuse.
Thanks again, June Bird Killington of SeaWorld SHUT DOWN, for this interview. Keep up your magnificent work.
THE PERFECT PAIR DOLPHIN TRILOGY - "a shocking exposé of callous brutality against highly intelligent living creatures"
Shards from the Mirror is the third and final part of the Perfect Pair trilogy, detailing the often horrific story behind professional dolphin training. It has been an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least, and the series comes to a dramatic end as the threat from early in the first book (which echoes throughout all three volumes) really makes itself felt: “Dolphinariums don’t just break dolphins - they break trainers.”
For those who haven’t read the first two parts of the trilogy by the Holroyd siblings, The Perfect Pair is the story of the semi-fictional dolphin trainer David Capello. While the book is classified as a work of fiction and must be sought in the fiction section of book stores, this is primarily a legal defence against an overwhelmingly powerful dolphinarium industry; an industry for which this third book especially is a shocking exposé of callous brutality against highly intelligent living creatures.
Literally anyone who has ever worked in any company ever will be drawn into the book on a wave of sheer sympathy. The treatment of David and his aquatic charges - the titular Perfect Pair - by the Company is as barbaric as it is familiar. The constant demand for more results with fewer resources, the callous disregard for human (and dolphin) lives and wellbeing, the claiming of credit by those who have done nothing to earn it and the shameful treatment of those who do all of the hard work, all in the name of profit and the deluded opinion that it constitutes good management: It’s all vividly described by the Holroyds, with the added horror of the bloody consequences felt by the dolphins.
It must be admitted that, if you haven’t read the first two books - The Enchanted Mirror and The Mirror Cracks - some aspects of Shards from the Mirror will seem a little baffling. Old characters make dramatic returns (or, in a couple of cases, are merely mentioned) without any kind of explanation of who they are and why they are significant. However, the trilogy is meant to be read together, just like The Lord of the Rings’ three parts. Taking only the third part out of context, in either case, would be redundant. Just like its two prequels, though, Shards from the Mirror is incredibly compelling and its structure of short, sharp chapters makes it very easy and quick to read.
The book’s contents, however, makes reading it quite a challenge. Make no mistake, the tale is a brutal one, especially when you recognise the conflicted nature of its writer. Even as Capello begins to realise just how little care the Company has for its “assets”, he still strives to make his Perfect Pair the best dolphin show in the world. You quickly come to realise that what initially seems like a somewhat disjointed and confused writing style is actually the deterioration of Capello’s mental state. And you’re coming along for the ride.
A theme throughout the three books is Capello’s somewhat baffling connection with his dolphins, earning him the nickname of the ‘psychic trainer’. As with the previous two parts, this nebulous concept is very well described and delivered - far better than we can do here, so you’re going to have to read it for yourself to find out exactly what we mean! It gets a little extreme and pushes the boundaries of credibility right at the end but, after all that the reader has gone through alongside the character, you are left more than willing to believe him.
If you think that being categorised as fiction means that there will be a happy ending, prepare to be sorely disappointed. The ending is a sequence of crushing hammer-blows as what remains of Capello’s will and happiness is destroyed. To all intents and purposes, the happy ending came over 40 years later, with the publication of three hard-hitting and highly recommended books.
Ben Reeves - Journalist and Reviewer
THE PERFECT PAIR DOLPHIN TRILOGY – ROCKING THE BOAT FOR GLOBAL DOLPHINARIA AND ANTI-CAPTIVITY CHARITIES ALIKE
A national UK media block. Corporate book blocking. Covert messaging. All seemingly aided and abetted by many of the big-name anti-captivity charities. Intrigue and skulduggery, more reminiscent of an international spy thriller than a book series about dolphins.
Why are so many powerful individuals and organisations keen to keep this story from the public gaze? Just one of the many questions I put to co-author David C Holroyd on his recent visit to Pattaya.
“When my sister and I embarked on this project, we were warned to expect trouble from the multi-national conglomerate involved in the 1970s UK dolphin scene. So, to avoid legal complications, we chose to change all names of people and places, and print this true story under the fiction banner. However, in an act of defiance, we purposely left the names of the dolphins and animals unchanged.
“However, what we did not envisage was the ferocious opposition from what we had considered to be friendly organisations - the charities. Not only did they refuse to promote or endorse the trilogy, despite it being proofed by original dolphin logbooks, but one UK charity - Marine Connection - went so far as to mount a covert campaign to undermine it. A bizarre response from a charity that supposedly wants to close global dolphinaria.
“Marine Connection’s reasons remain a mystery, because whenever challenged, it refuses to give an answer. However, one charity insider was quick to tip us off: ‘They will never forgive you for telling it like it is!’ A quote that begs the question, is this charity truly about saving captive cetaceans, or is it about jealously protecting the financial support of a sympathetic public? A paradox we should all keep in mind whenever charitable organisations start to shake their begging bowls.”
Apart from the anti-captivity charities, the authors have also met opposition from some in the research community.
“There’s no doubt that our story is causing shockwaves as it openly questions the accepted classification of a dolphin. India now views dolphins as non-human persons, rather than simply ‘animals’. A dangerous concept for global dolphinaria and the world’s whaling nations, such as Japan, Norway and the Faroe Islands - countries which are currently butchering these incredible beings at an alarming rate, pushing some species to the edge of extinction.
“Could you imagine the chaos that would ensue should cetaceans be reclassified? The global community would be forced to view their slaughter as the eradication of a sentient race … genocide!
“So, it’s not hard to see why The Perfect Pair Dolphin Trilogy is causing such dismay.”
Okay, we’ve dealt with the ethics – but what about the story itself?
“During the writing of this exposé, it was never our intention to preach or draw the reader into the realms of fantasy, even though the testimony of the young trainer featured often appears to take us there. This especially holds true when he speaks about a mind connection – a psychic link with his ‘beautiful Atlanteans’. A phenomenon that demonstrates the ease with which a cetacean and human mind can bond, and shows just how emotionally intelligent a dolphin truly is. Although this psychic connection might sound far-fetched, it’s already recognised as fact by some who work in the captive cetacean industry - something the aqua circus tries very hard to hide from its deluded public.”
“What the sceptics have to remember is that no one has ever had the courage to publicly challenge this trainer’s testimony. Those who worked with him could never offer a logical explanation for what they witnessed. In fact, some of their accounts border on the supernatural, making this story even more fascinating.”
Wow! I have a strong feeling that this trilogy’s insight into dolphin behaviour will, given time, have a profound effect on the way the public view these beautiful mammals. That said, I don’t expect the controversy surrounding it to go away any time soon.
I can only urge you not to let these extraordinary books pass you by. Read them - you will never view a dolphin in the same light again.
The Perfect Pair Dolphin Trilogy by David C Holroyd and Tracy J Holroyd, comprising:
The Perfect Pair: The Enchanted Mirror
The Perfect Pair: The Mirror Cracks
The Perfect Pair: Shards from the Mirror
Available as hardback, paperback and e-book from all reputable online bookshops.
For more information, check out www.theperfectpairdolphintrilogy.com
Pattaya One Media Group