Dolphin park and animal rights activists collaborate on new sea sanctuary

Australia’s Dolphin Marine Conservation Park in Coffs Harbour is working with Action for Dolphins to build a new sea sanctuary for its three dolphins.

The Dolphin Marine Conservation Park in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, currently has three bottlenose dolphins that have all been raised in captivity. Now, The Guardian reports that the park is working with Action for Dolphins to create a new sea sanctuary for the dolphins.

This proposal has been a long process. Action for Dolphins has lobbied against the park for many years. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the group once sued the park in federal court.

Wellbeing of dolphins prioritised

However, when Terry Goodall joined the Dolphin Marine Conservation Park as managing director in 2018, he engaged with Action for Dolphins to find a good solution. He said that the two groups both “agree on the wellbeing of the dolphins.”

Action for Dolphins wanted the park’s three dolphins to be released into the wild, however, they grew up in captivity so they wouldn’t know how to survive in the wild.

New sea sanctuary proposed

Together, the two groups came up with an idea for a semi-open sea enclosure in Coffs Harbour. A netted sanctuary will house the three dolphins, as well as rehabilitate injured sea life.

Jordan Sosnowski, the advocacy director for Action for Dolphins said that it was a “very unique collaboration”, but agreed that “a sea sanctuary is a humane compromise which will allow the animals to live in the ocean and have a lot more autonomy, whilst still ensuring they are looked after and fed by caregivers.”

Public sentiment in recent years in Australia has moved to the extent that the only other dolphin facility in the country is Sea World on the Gold Coast. If the Dolphin Marine Conservation Park closed then there would be no other nearby rehabilitation centre. The new sea sanctuary could allow the Park to remain open in a way that activists are comfortable with, and still carry out the important work it does in caring for injured sea animals.

COVID-19 impact

The closure of the park because of the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the park and the local economy. The Dolphin Marine Conservation Park generates around AUD$15 million (£8 million, $10 million) a year into the local economy.

Building this new sea sanctuary will help provide jobs in the aftermath of the pandemic and increase tourism, as well as provide a better life for the dolphins, according to Sosnowski.

The two groups are now working together to try and secure funding for this project, which Goodall estimates could cost up to AUD$10 million (£5 million, $6 million) .

A new open water beluga whale sanctuary has been built in Iceland with the support of Merlin Entertainments and the SEA LIFE Trust. Two beluga whales from an aquarium in China are now ready to be moved into the sea. Merlin Entertainments, which owns the Sea Life aquarium chain and set up The Sea Life Trust, has a long-held principle that belugas and other cetaceans do not belong in captivity. The creation of the beluga whale sanctuary was planned following Merlin’s acquisition of Changfeng Ocean World in 2012.

Image: Dolphin Marine Conservation Park