My visit to an Australian marine park

Feb 22, 2016 by afdadmin
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The main dolphin pool at Coffs Harbour's Dolphin Marine Magic.

The main dolphin pool at Coffs Harbour’s Dolphin Marine Magic.

By AFD’s Advocacy Director, Jordan Sosnowski

Working in dolphin protection, I’ve had the unfortunate privilege of visiting some of the worst marine parks in the world. And I can say that, even compared to parks I’ve seen in country’s with no animal welfare laws, Dolphin Marine Magic in Coffs Harbour gives me concern.

Litter-strewn chlorinated water, small grimy pools, animals forced to perform repetitive tricks 365 days a year. In my opinion, it’s on a par with some of the most terrible aquariums I’ve ever visited.

No, the park doesn’t capture dolphins from the wild like they do in Japan.

Thankfully, capturing wild dolphins is illegal in Australia.

But unfortunately, there is a legal loophole, and it’s being exploited.

Bucky is 45 years old and suffering from cancer.

Bucky is 45 years old and in remission from cancer.

If you “rescue” an injured dolphin from the wild, you can use it to breed new dolphins. These captive-bred dolphins cannot fend for themselves and therefore (conveniently for marine parks), can never be released. It’s kind of like the pre-Thirteenth Amendment situation in the U.S., when children of slaves automatically became the property of slave-owners.

Speaking of children, whilst I was in Coffs Harbour, I visited a number of schools – thanks to a grant made possible by the lovely people at Voiceless, the animal protection institute. I delivered a program to students, educating them about the harmful effects of dolphin captivity. The students were really keen to learn about dolphins and how they could help – one even made the acute observation that dolphins were “hella smart”, which I totes agree with.

Some not-so-smart people might argue that dolphins born in captivity have never known life in the wild, so in essence, they don’t know what they’re missing.

DMM close up

But scientists like Dr Jane Goodall have said dolphins are just not suited to a captive environment. They’re built to swim long distances and their intelligence means they quickly become bored with repetition. A dolphin’s natural sonar (which they use in the wild to locate predators and navigate), reverberates off the cement walls of a tank. This renders the dolphins “blind” and disoriented.

Imagine being born in prison and being forced to live your whole life in a cement cell. You wouldn’t know what life was like on the outside, but you could hazard a guess. Slowly, day by day, you’d go mad pacing up and down with tedium.

For dolphins born in marine parks in Australia, captivity is not just indefinite detention – it can be a death sentence.

Animal welfare experts have been telling us since 1985 that dolphins suffer in captivity. Despite this, Australia’s marine parks continue to breed new generations of dolphins into captivity.

There has been mystery surrounding the cause of the little dolphin’s death and, recently, the CEO of Dolphin Marine Magic confirmed that an autopsy had been undertaken. However, when we asked about the cause of death, the CEO flat out refused to make it public. We can only gauge from this that the park is hiding something.

Since the release of films like Blackfish, more people are starting to turn away from the use of animals in entertainment. Sea World’s profits have dropped a whopping 84 percent, which is something no one thought would ever happen.

The tide is turning, but will it ever reach Australia’s shores?

A recent protest outside Coffs Harbour's Dolphin Marine Magic.

A recent protest outside Coffs Harbour’s Dolphin Marine Magic.

If AFD gets our way, you know what the answer will be. We intend to have legislation introduced in Australia to ban captive breeding in marine parks and phase out dolphin captivity altogether. Our campaign even has the support of Former NSW Environment Minister, Bob Carr. It’s something that should have been done long ago in Australia, but for the dolphins, it’s better late than never.

After the recent school presentation, kids had to take a survey and it was great reading their comments and seeing how much they cared about dolphin protection. They also had to tick a box as to “how likely” they might be to visit dolphins in captivity.

Some kids had taken the liberty of creating a brand new box for this question, complete with its own word – “NEVER”.

You gotta love kids. They’re hella smart.

To support Australia for Dolphins’ campaign to end dolphin captivity in Australia, please sign our petition here and join the Dolphin Defender team.