Missing dolphin trainer found dead in Spain

Story highlights

  • Dolphin trainer Jose Luis Barbero was found dead in his vehicle, Spanish police say
  • Grainy viral video triggered abuse allegations as he prepared to work at the Georgia Aquarium

(CNN)A Spanish dolphin trainer who was accused on social media of abusing the animals has been found dead, a source with the Spanish National Police told CNN on Saturday.

Jose Luis Barbero was expected to become vice president of the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, CNN affiliate WSB reported. He was found dead inside his vehicle in the public parking lot of the Palma de Mallorca airport on the island of Mallorca, the source said.
    The source said the case is being treated as a suicide.
    Georgia Aquarium Chairman and CEO Mike Leven issued a strongly worded statement that said:
    "Georgia Aquarium began a search for truth in hopes of disproving these unsubstantiated claims. Sadly, (Barbero) and his family received death threats, and groups and individuals rushed to judge him. He was not given the right or the privilege to be considered innocent until proven guilty ... His death is untimely, unnecessary and unjust."
    Barbero, 59, went missing recently and authorities had started searching for him. In February, videos circulated of animal trainers in Spain allegedly hitting and kicking dolphins.
    Posters on social media claimed Barbero was one of them. The Georgia Aquarium questioned the authenticity of the videos but put his employment on hold.
    The video footage is grainy and dark, and faces are difficult to make out. Trainers are making fast foot and hand motions in the dolphins' direction, but it is unclear if these are blows.
    CNN could not independently confirm the authenticity of the videos.
    Barbero's employer in Spain, Marineland Mallorca, denied the allegations and said it planned to take legal action against Barbero's accusers, according to the Georgia Aquarium.