Mendelbaum's route to the pinnacle of the scientific world has been anything but typical. After starring in the Flipper television series, he enlisted to serve in the Vietnam War but was quickly captured in a North Vietnamese tuna net. Mendelbaum saw several dolphin recruits die in the net, but he was spared and spent the next two years as a prisoner of war. "I still have nightmares about some of the unspeakable things I witnessed in the net," Mendelbaum said.
After the war, Mendelbaum worked for a time as an examiner in a Swiss patent office, where he formulated an early version of the "Theory of Everything." Unhappy with the benefits, he enrolled in the University of the Pacific and received his doctorate in record time. He married, and in short order divorced, Christie Brinkley, Elle Macpherson and Kathy Ireland. He and Ireland have two children, Zeb, 22 and Faith, 16.
Mendelbaum's life has not been without controversy. In the early 1980's, several prominent dolphins in the motion picture industry took out a full page ad in the New York Times accusing him of not doing enough for dolphin rights because, the ad asserted, "Mendelbaum wants to pretend he is human." The ad was triggered by Mendelbaum's decision to be circumcised to appease first wife Christie Brinkley, a practice hardly ever performed on dolphins. Herschel Bernardi, the voice of Charlie the Tuna, went so far as to label Mendelbaum a "self-loathing dolphin." Mendelbaum rejected the criticism, and claimed the medical procedure was "a totally free choice -- I liked the look of it."
In addition to his work in physics, Mendelbaum holds thirty-one patents, including the one for grape juice. "The royalties from that one pay the alimony, and then some," Mendelbaum quips.