Someday—we hope sooner rather than later⁠—the exploitation of dolphins (and other marine animals) at SeaWorld-style parks and tourist experiences where people pay money to swim with dolphins in captivity will be a thing of the past. Well, we just got one step closer to the future.

On June 22nd, PETA announced that it was awarding its Innovator for Animals award to Roger Holzberg and Walt Conti of Edge Innovations for their animatronic dolphin design that is so realistic that you would think it was the real thing, even as you swim alongside it. the hope is that this mechanical version of Flipper may change marine captivity for good.

"Swim with Dolphins" in the future could mean swimming with a machine

The robotic dolphin Edge Innovations has designed looks much like the real animal and can replicate its actions, too, all without exposing these real marine mammals to the needless suffering that occurs in captivity. As PETA notes, at entertainment centers like Seaworld, the incredibly smart mammals are sentenced to a life away from their natural habitat in small, chemically-treated tanks and used as breeding machines. At “swim with the dolphins” experiences, dolphins may be abducted from their mothers, sold for financial profit, and forced to spend their lives in cramped tanks, which can lead to ulcers and even premature death.

Robotic dolphins celebrate the majestic mammals without harming them

“These visionary designers have thrown a lifeline to sensitive dolphins who are exploited in ‘swim with dolphins’ encounters and archaic marine parks,” said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman in the media statement. “PETA is honoring them for making waves with this high-tech invention that lets people get up close to dolphins without harming them.” PETA Australia is also bestowing an Innovator for Animals Award to Melanie Langlotz of Geo AR Games in New Zealand for her pivotal work with Edge Innovations to create the animatronic dolphin.

These innovators’ incredible design has the potential to reduce or even erase the practice of capturing dolphins for human entertainment. “When I first saw the dolphin, I thought that it could be real,” one amazed swimmer says of the experience with Edge Innovations design. Watch the video below to see the animatronic dolphins in action, as they splash around, interact with humans, and more

There’s still a long way to go in eliminating cruelty on behalf of the experiential entertainment industry but this is one promising step in the right direction. Not to mention, this is a “swim with the dolphins” experience we could definitely get behind taking the grandkids to one day.