Proponents of swimming with dolphins cite the thrill of feeling a human-animal connection that verges on spiritual and even claim health benefits like reducing stress and boosting T cells. Animal rights supporters claim that promoting dolphin swims is cruel, unnatural, unsafe for people, and ruins dolphin family life. But what if you could swim with robot dolphins

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U.S. engineering company Edge Innovations has designed an animatronic dolphin that just might satisfy people’s urge to interact with the marine mammal. The faux dolphins are remote control-operated, cost between 3 and 5 million dollars and are surprisingly lifelike.

Related: Free at last: Canada passes Act to prohibit dolphin and whale captivity

“When I first saw the dolphin, I thought it could be real,” said a woman who swam with an animatronic dolphin in Hayward, California.

Walt Conti, CEO of Edge Innovations, hopes that animatronic creatures could stand-in for the real thing in theme parks; dolphins are just the beginning. Swimmers could safely swim with robotic great white sharks or even recreations of deadly prehistoric sea creatures. Edge has a proven track record for such creations. The company built the animatronic stars of “Anaconda,” “Free Willy” and “Deep Blue Sea.”

“There are like 3,000 dolphins currently in captivity being used to generate several billions of dollars just for dolphin experiences. And so there’s obviously an appetite to love and learn about dolphins,” said Conti. “We want to use that appetite and offer kind of different ways to fall in love with the dolphin.” He suggests that people opposed to the treatment of captive dolphins might return to a theme park to see robots.

This animatronic initiative could have worldwide appeal. Twenty European countries that have limited or banned the use of wild animals in circuses could welcome robotic dolphins and other critters.

Will an encounter with a fake dolphin satisfy people’s desire for interspecies connection with wildlife? It obviously won’t be the same. But keep in mind, captive dolphins aren’t really smiling. Their faces are just made that way.

Via Reuters

Image via Pexels