Spanish dolphin trainer who took his life after his career was derailed gets a Netflix documentary

The Last Dolphin King: Spanish trainer who took his life when video emerged of him kicking marine mammals was the ‘target of jealousy’ after landing lucrative job with US aquarium claims Netflix documentary

  • Trainer Jose Luis Barbero killed himself after being accused of abusing dolphins
  • Video circulated by marine animal advocates went viral and he became hated
  • He was found dead in Mallorca after being offered a job in the Gerogia Aquarium
  • A Netflix documentary will explore the events leading up to his death in 2015
  • The show, titled The Last Dolphin King, will come out on November 25

A once-celebrated Spanish aquarium trainer who killed himself in 2015 after he was 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 video surfaced of him apparently kicking and hitting a dolphin at an aquarium on the Spanish island Mallorca, where he had been working since the late 1980s.

Soon after becoming the focus of a campaign by animal rights activists the 59-year-old began receiving death threats and later went missing. Days later he was found dead in a car parked outside the Mallorca airport.

Now his story will be told in a Netflix documentary titled The Last Dolphin King which is due to come out on November 25.

Dolphin trainer Jose Luis Barbero, who had just been hired by the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, went missing and was then discovered dead

Dolphin trainer Jose Luis Barbero, who had just been hired by the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, went missing and was then discovered dead

Barbero's story will be told in a Netflix documentary titled The Last Dolphin King which is due to come out on November 25

Barbero’s story will be told in a Netflix documentary titled The Last Dolphin King which is due to come out on November 25

Barbero had been working at Marineland in Mallorca for around 30 years when in 2015 he was offered a job in the US to be a 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 caused him to become a target of jealousy, the new Netflix documentary suggests.

A montage of surveillance footage captured from an apartment block near to Marineland in Mallorca appeared to show Barbero abusing a dolphin during a training exercise.

The footage was promoted by SOSdelfines – a group that seeks to expose the mistreatment of dolphins in captivity – and went viral. It was reported on 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 watch.’

Barbero went missing on the Spanish island of Mallorca

After the videos surfaced, Barbero reportedly began receiving death threats

Before he went missing videos of Barbero, 59, allegedly hitting and kicking dolphins surfaced 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 brutal and cowardly campaign against my profession.

‘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.’

His wife Mari Gracia said during the documentary that the threats and scrutiny took their toll on him.

Barbero then went missing in March 2015 and wasn’t seen for days after leaving his home in Mallorca. Balearic Islands emergency began a large search operation to try and find him.

Georgia Aquarium CEO Mike Leven said at the time: ‘We are very concerned. We hope he turns up soon and that everything is all right. Our thoughts are with him and his family.’

Days later he was found dead in his car in the car park of the Mallorca airport.

Barbero's wife Mari Gracia said during the documentary that the threats and scrutiny took its toll on him

Barbero’s wife Mari Gracia said during the documentary that the threats and scrutiny took its toll on him

Barbero had just been offered a job as vice president at the prestigious Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta

Barbero had just been offered a job as vice president at the prestigious Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta

A statement from management at the Atlanta attraction sent to Fox 5 following his death paid tribute to the expert trainer and accused people of rushing to judge him.

‘It was with sadness, outrage and frustration that I received the news this morning that Jose Luis Barbero was found dead in Spain.

‘Initial reports suggest that he allegedly ended his own life. He was a husband, a father and a grandfather who dedicated nearly four decades to caring for animals.

‘We at Georgia Aquarium were proud to have had him serve periodically as a consultant to our organization over the past eight years. His service with us was exemplary.’

Barbero's wife Mari Gracia, who appeared in the documentary, said that the threats took their toll on the trainer

Barbero’s wife Mari Gracia, who appeared in the documentary, said that the threats took their toll on the trainer

Those in the documentary argued that Barbero was targeted due to the fame he received after landing the job while others defending him have argued the footage was doctored.

Former colleague Javier Gutierrez said the campaign against him was motivated by ‘hatred and revenge’ and said that activists were after his career.

‘They really chose the right moment to put it out,’ he said in the film.

‘It was when Jose Luis Barbero had signed the contract with Georgia Aquarium, so he was already in the United States. They gave a lot of thought about how to do the most damage.’

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