Friday, December 01, 2006

Dolphin therapy is being studied

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Two dolphins recently arrived in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, to take part in Osaka Prefecture University research on the effectiveness of dolphin-assisted therapy.

Among various therapies involving contact with animals, swimming with dolphins has been regarded as very effective, although there is little scientific backing for the claims.

The research group, led by professor and veterinarian Fumihito Ohashi of the university's School of Life and Environmental Sciences, is hoping to measure the effectiveness in hopes of using the therapy for children, the elderly and the disabled.

The two-year research project will be conducted by the group in cooperation with the Sakai municipal government and the Japan Dolphin Assisted Therapy Association, a nonprofit organization in the city, with 12 million yen in research expenses for this fiscal year.

Dolphin therapy, involving swimming with or stroking the heads and backs of the marine animals, started in the late 1970s in the United States. In Japan, the therapy mainly has been provided for children with developmental disorders.

The therapy reportedly fosters a sense of well-being and motivates its patients.

The research will be conducted at a two-meter-deep, 10-meter-wide pool on a bank of the Doigawa river in the city's Sakai Ward.

The two female dolphins arrived on Nov. 21 from Minami-Chita Beach Land, an aquarium in Mihamacho, Aichi Prefecture, and Japan Dolphin Center in Sanuki, Kagawa Prefecture. The research will begin after the dolphins have become settled in their new environment.

As part of the research, about 100 local primary school students will play with dolphins in the water for 20 to 30 minutes each for two weeks, accompanied by a clinical psychologist.

The research group will then conduct questionnaires to gauge the students' emotional reactions. The analysis of the questionnaires is scheduled to be complete by March.

Ohashi is hoping to analyze not only mental changes but also to conduct physiological research, including an analysis of changes in the children's saliva.

The Sakai municipal government believes the research will contribute to helping the disabled and the elderly.

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