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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 10:51 EDT

A Dolphin at Play Keeps the Blues Away

November 30, 2005

Researchers find depression decreased in patients who bonded with dolphins

Swimming with dolphins appears to be an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression, according to new U.K. research.

The randomized controlled study was conducted at the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences in Honduras and involved outpatients recruited from the United States and Honduras from November 2002 thru December 2003.

A total of 30 people with mild or moderate depression were involved: Half of them were assigned to swim and snorkel with bottlenose dolphins for an hour a day for two weeks. The rest also swam and snorkeled but not in the presence of dolphins.

All the study volunteers discontinued antidepressant drugs or psychotherapy at least four weeks before the start of the study and did not take any drugs during the study, the researchers said.

By the end of study, those people who swam with the dolphins had a greater average reduction in the severity of their depressive symptoms than those who did not. The findings appear in the Nov. 26 issue of the British Medical Journal.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first randomized, single blind, controlled trial of animal facilitated therapy with dolphins. The natural setting itself is also an important factor that has to be considered in the treatment of emotional disorders. This is confirmed by other studies,” the authors wrote in their study findings.

“The effects exerted by the animals were significantly greater than those of just the natural setting,” they added. “The echolocation system, the aesthetic value, and the emotions raised by the interaction with dolphins may explain the mammals’ healing properties.”

The researchers, from the division of clinical Psychiatry at the University of Leicester Medical School, noted that the study supports the theory of biophilia, which contends that human health and well-being is dependent on the human connection with the natural world.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about depression (www.nimh.nih.gov ).