Quarter-tonne robot dolphins costing £18 million each could replace the animals in controversial sea life parks.
The 2.5-metre creations are clad in medical-grade silicone and can swim underwater and behave just like their real-life counterparts, even performing tricks for crowds.
The brainchild of an animatronic company which has made creatures for Hollywood blockbusters such as Free Willy, Deep Blue Sea, Avatar, Flipper and Anaconda it is hoped one day the innovation can help free the 3,000 ultra-intelligent mammals living in the multi-billion-pound captivity industry.
Welfare organisation PETA posted pictures of incredibly realistic robot Delle swimming alongside children at the John C. Argue Swim Stadium, Los Angeles, The Sun reports.
The group said the technology could allow humans to experience and learn about dolphins without confiding them to concrete tanks.
Activist Katherine Sullivan added: “There is an end in sight to cruel ‘swim with dolphins’ programs, for which young dolphins are traumatically abducted from their ocean homes and frantic mothers, sometimes illegally.”
In Europe, 20 countries have already banned or limited animals in circuses but dolphin experiences in places like Orlando, Florida, attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.
Although falling revenue suggest audiences are being put off by welfare concerns.
Created by New Zealand firm Edge Innovations The Dolphin could bring back those people, says CEO Walt Conti.
The high price tag is four times what a live dolphin would cost theme parks and it is rumours Chinese investors funded early work on the project while pledging to use the robots in any new parks built in the country.
Edge previously said while the cost is high the robotic dolphins do not require the same amount of care and temperature monitoring and outlive their live counterparts, which only survive for an average of 20 years in captivity compared to between 30 and 50 years in the wild.
Creative director for Edge’s animatronic program, Roger Holzberg, added: “The idea of this is to really to create a kind of Sesame Street under water.
“Those characters taught a generation how to feel about different kinds of aspects of humankind in ways that had never been imagined before. And that’s what we dream of with this project.”
Previously test audiences have been unable to tell the animatronic dolphins were not real.
The fact it is robotic also allows it to get closer to humans than would normally be safe for the animal.
The application of the technology does not just stop at dolphins, though.
Edge’s previous experience means thrill-seekers could be given the opportunity to swim with great white sharks and even jurassic era reptiles.