“JoJo’s 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 when JoJo, then a young curious bottlenose dolphin, began to follow Dean to the beautiful reefs a mile off shore. But he always maintained his distance. When Dean went on his daily swim, the dolphin followed closer and closer each day. And as the days and weeks passed, JoJo would show Dean an underwater world he had never experienced in all his years of professional diving. The two bonded, creating a lasting Human/Dolphin friendship.
Dean was born in San Jose, California and received his B.A. at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is a strong athlete with great affection for the ocean. Dean has received certification in: NAUI Diving Rescue, PADI Open Water, NAUI Assistant Instructor, CMASS Instructor, PADI Specialty Research Diver and NITROX Diver. Even without the certificates, Dean can hold his breath for five minutes under water, as he is an accomplished free diver. This affinity for water makes Dean the perfect companion for JoJo the Dolphin.
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 will provoke a 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."
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 trusting friendship. 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. In addition, 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!
As time went on their relationship grew, and Dean learned about many of JoJo's playful antics 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 the magnificent 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.
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 Dolphin, Whale, and Marine Wildlife Foundation.
By 1990, the JoJo Project became well known worldwide. With the interest of the Bellerive Foundation, 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 Nature, Robin William's Into the Wild-Dolphins, both PBS specials, 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.
Today the project is an independent grassroots charity. Dean is still JoJo's caretaker and the Director of the Dolphin Whale, and 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.