October 4, 2017

GRASSY KEY — The famous performing dolphin Molly died last week, well into her 50s. She was the last of the “Flipper”-era trained dolphins that was loyal to humans and stirred controversy among anti-captivity activists.

Linda Erb, Dolphin Research Center’s vice president of animal care and training, met Molly well before she arrived at the Middle Keys facility in 1996. By that time, Molly was well-known.

“I met her in 1992, before the government stepped in and confiscated her and sent her to DRC,” she said. “When we got her in 1996 she wasn’t in the best of health. Quite the history this lady had. She has a rich past.”

Molly’s estimated birthdate was 1962, making her about 34 years old at that time. She was captured in the wild in 1968, prior to the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.

In short, Molly starred in a movie, trained to find the Loch Ness Monster, travelled the country, escaped into the wild for three weeks, and lived at Theater of the Sea, the Ocean Reef Club and the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary before finally coming to the Dolphin Research Center. 

Later in her life, she cared for baby dolphin calves and enjoyed playing with scarves.

She is believed to have been one of the oldest living dolphins in captivity.

“She was brassy and bold like Bette Midler, and famous for her beautiful huge flips, being 9 feet long. She was coquettish, flirtatious, and she was trained so long ago, she did the beach slide,” Erb said. “If she did a flip, she wanted a herring; she was trained old-school.”

Not all view her time working with humans in such a positive light.

“Molly was the last survivor of the failed dolphin eco-sanctuary,” said Russ Rector, long-time anti-captivity activist. “Molly paid the price for a lot of people’s egos; she’s another casualty of captivity. In hindsight, Sugarloaf was a desperate measure, and poor Molly lived out the rest of her life having to do stupid pet tricks seven days a week.”

According to DRC’s records, Molly escaped from captivity at Ocean Reef in 1992 along with two other dolphins, Bogey and Bacall. The trio lived life on-the-run for three weeks before being recaptured off of Key Biscayne while begging for food.

There are conflicting records of how the dolphins breached the pen. According to DRC, activists cut the fence, and according to Rector, a lemon shark encroached.

“Molly found her home here with us at the DRC,” said Mary Stella, director of marketing at the center.

In the last few years of her life, Molly had grown fond of baby dolphins and always looked out for Summer and made sure she was safe. She was very nurturing to Calusa too, Erb said.

“She had a lot of best friends. I miss her so much.We all do,” she said.

tjava@keysnews.com