Dolphins are one of the most intelligent species on the planet. Their natural environment in the ocean is varied and challenging. Compare this to life in a barren swimming pool and it’s easy to see why dolphins suffer – both physically and psychologically – in a captive environment.
What many people don’t know is that many captive dolphins in Australia are not rescued – they are deliberately bred in captivity, just for entertainment. When the science suggests that dolphins may suffer stress, disease and early death in captivity, there is no justification for breeding them into chlorinated pools.
So if dolphins can’t be kept in captivity, where can they go?
While it would be wonderful if captive dolphins could be released back into the ocean, many of them have probably been in captivity for too long. Some have been born in captivity and never learned the skills necessary to survive in the wild.
A sea sanctuary would provide a “half-way home” for captive dolphins, where they could live the rest of their days in the closest environment to their natural habitat.
A sea sanctuary is made up of a large netted saltwater pen, which is protected from harsh weather and tidal surge in a sheltered cove or harbour.
The pen is much larger than a pool or tank, the water is natural and un-chlorinated, and the dolphins can use their echolocation as the sides of the pen are netted, as opposed to cement walls.
A sea sanctuary would not only provide a humane home for retired captive dolphins, but could also serve as a much-needed rehabilitation base for stranded and injured dolphins. At present, dolphins in need of rehabilitation along the NSW coast are often euthanised, as there is no facility close by to accommodate them. However if a sea sanctuary were built, the facility could temporarily house and treat these animals, and eventually release them back into the wild.
But Dolphin Marine Magic is an iconic tourist attraction…
The dolphin park in Coffs Harbour was founded in 1970 by Hec Goodall. Hec made it his life’s work to care for animals. Unfortunately, even though he is still the major shareholder, Hec is disappointed that the park is ruining his legacy.
The mission of the park was always to rehabilitate animals, not to use animals for entertainment. Hec now advocates for the sea sanctuary model to be established and for a return to a focus on rehabilitation and rescue.
Where to now?
Australia is one of the most vocal nations in the world when it comes to dolphin and whale protection. We were one of the first countries to ban the capture of whales and dolphins from the wild. Sadly, our protections for captive dolphins are lagging far behind other countries. Establishing a sea sanctuary would put Australia once more at the forefront of dolphin protection globally.