Heartbreaking story of dolphin who played TV’s Flipper

KATHY the dolphin delighted children around the world when she played TV's "Flipper" during the 1960s - but her brush with fame quite quickly turned to tragedy when she took her own life.

The marine mammal ended up in a tiny tank after she retired from the show, becoming so depressed and sick that she forced herself to stop breathing and drowned, according to her longterm trainer Ric O'Barry.

O'Barry claims he was there when Kathy committed suicide by swimming into his arms and purposefully holding her breath until she died at the Miami Seaquarium in 1968.

He says when he eventually let go she simply sank to the bottom of her tank dead.

Dolphins are believed by some to have the capacity to commit suicide as there have been numerous alleged cases.

And according to O'Barry, her death was definitely an intentional act to take her own life.

It was what inspired the former trainer to turn from teaching dolphins how to perform tricks and instead focus on animal welfare, later setting up The Dolphin Project to campaign against keeping the animals captive.

Kathy was one of five bottlenose dolphins to star in the 1960s show Flipper, which spun off from the movie of the same name released in 1963.

The show tells the story of the titular dolphin who lives in Florida with the Ricks family as they get into all kinds of aquatic adventures.

Following the same style as "Lassie", the show was a hit and Kathy, along with her co-stars Susie, Patty, Scotty and Squirt, all became famous faces on NBC - even being broadcast behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union.

However, there was a dark side to the show - as all the dolphins who portrayed Flipper had been captured from the wild, including Kathy.

Female dolphins were chosen as they were less aggressive - and were more likely to have unblemished flesh which would look better on TV.

Flipper was only played by a male dolphin, called Clown, when they needed to do the famous "tail walking" trick - as the female stars could not master the stunt.

And after the whirlwind of glitz and glamour had ended and show was cancelled in 1967, the dolphins were retired to a life in full captivity, with O'Barry kept on hand in case they were needed for other shows.

"I knew she was tired of suffering," O'Barry told the Huffpost in 2010.

"She was living a miserable life and she was tired of being miserable."