attraction to Bernal goes far beyond curiosity; it seems to be a genuine longing
for companionship. Dean Bernal is one of the lucky few, and he knows it, for
JoJo has bestowed upon him a rare gift—friendship with a creature that
is wild and free.” George Page, PBS Nature Series
Dean first met JoJo in 1984 while visiting the Turks and Caicos Islands. It was during an ocean swim that JoJo, then a young and curious bottlenose dolphin, began to follow Dean on his daily swim to the reefs a mile off shore. At first, he maintained his distance, but with each passing day, the dolphin followed closer and closer. As the days and weeks passed, the two began to explore the reefs together and developed a friendship that continues today.
© JoJo Archives
Dean was born in San Jose, California and received his Bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a strong athlete with great affection for the ocean. He has earned numerous SCUBA certifications including NAUI Diving Rescue, PADI Open Water, NAUI Assistant Instructor, CMASS Instructor, PADI Specialty Research Diver and NITROX Diver. Dean is also an accomplished free diver and can hold his breath for five minutes under water. This natural affinity for the aquatic habitat makes Dean the perfect companion for JoJo the Dolphin.
© Horace Dobbs
Dean explains, " My decision to reside on the islands was based on the unique existence of JoJo and the friendship I had established with him due to our many hours at sea. Though JoJo was very young, he had a reputation as a dangerous dolphin. This was because many people would attempt to touch him if he was near shore, and to a dolphin this is an aggressive act that would provoke any wild animal. If someone were to reach out to pet him, he would defend himself with a bite to the offending hand. I never reached out to touch JoJo and continued to marvel at the wild dolphin escorting me for hours each day as I swam in the depths of the ocean.”
© Robert Bulgin/JoJo Archives
In 1985 Dean began to research the animal and document this growing relationship. "There was not a lot of physical contact unless JoJo initiated it," Dean explained. The relationship developed into a friendship based on trust and respect. JoJo allowed Dean to help him when he was injured, and because he understood the problems facing JoJo, Dean's concerns grew greater.
Dean's first impression was that he might be living a legend from Greek mythology! The ocean surrounding the Turks and Caicos Islands is a clear and calm turquoise blue, with beaches of fine white sand stretching for miles. With JoJo at his side, looking him directly in the eye and guiding him through the spectrum of colorful coral reefs and tropical fish, Dean was convinced that a legend from Greek mythology was indeed taking place in the twentieth century!
© Yves Coutison/JoJo Archives
In the PBS series Nature, George Page made the same connection. “Accounts of lone dolphins befriending humans date from antiquity and in this sense JoJo belongs to a long tradition.”
As time went on their relationship grew, and Dean learned about many of JoJo's playful ways that would often put an end to water-skiing or scuba diving lessons. Dean was frequently called away from his own work and asked to swim JoJo out to the reef for hours, so that the lessons and activities could continue undisturbed by JoJo's intense curiosity. This made it possible to spend many hours a day with JoJo, along with his neighbors--the manta rays, sharks, turtles, whale sharks, other dolphins, and humpback whales. "Sometimes it's just the two of us swimming for miles across the reefs and out in the deep ocean, " Dean said.
In 1987, Dean and the Islands were about to lose JoJo as a wild dolphin. Because of his antics with humans, JoJo was seen as a hazard and liability to the tourism industry, and many felt that his future was destined to be spent in confinement or in certain death. "People were saying that JoJo was attacking them, when in reality it was the people who were harassing the dolphin," Dean explained. Dean initiated a letter writing campaign and petitioned the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Minister of Natural Resources to declare JoJo a National Treasure, rather than simply confining the animal.
© Doug Perrine/JoJo Archives
By 1988, Dean began to work as Marine Director for Protection of Reefs and Islands from Degradation and Exploitation (PRIDE). Then in 1989, Dean was appointed JoJo's official Marine Mammal Warden for the Turks and Caicos Islands.
He has won the fight to keep JoJo a wild dolphin, as well as a protected resource to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Dean's work has focused on the development of marine affairs programs, education programs, national parks, sanctuaries, historical site preservation programs and, most importantly, the JoJo Project and The Marine Wildlife Foundation.
By 1990, the JoJo Project became well known worldwide. Dean was able to provide both legal and medical protection for JoJo, as well as public education and research programs for both JoJo and other endangered wildlife. With their appearances in two PBS specials; Nature and Robin William’s Into the Wild-Dolphins, and MacGillivray-Freeman’s IMAX film, Dolphins, in 2000, Dean and JoJo have become an important symbol for both wildlife conservation and the exciting possibility that man can bridge the gulf that he believes separates him from the rest of nature.
© MacGillivray-Freeman Films
Today the project is an independent grassroots charity. Dean is still JoJo's caretaker and the Director of the Marine Wildlife Foundation. He works as an international wildlife consultant, writer, and film liaison. Research and wildlife protection are Dean's commitment and passion, but his responsibilities include fundraising, and creating education and medical programs for wildlife. He devotes a good deal of his time to speaking engagements at schools, universities and conferences, all the while lobbying for the protection, study, appreciation of marine mammals.
© JoJo Archives