– By Genevieve Wauchope
Last week the Sydney Swans cancelled a planned trip to Dolphin Marine Magic in Coffs Harbour after Australia for Dolphins’ supporters sent a barrage of messages, calls and emails calling on the team to reconsider the visit.
The dolphins at Dolphin Marine Magic are not drive hunt dolphins. In fact, it’s illegal for dolphins caught in Taiji to be brought into Australia. So, what’s the problem with Dolphin Marine Magic? And why all the fuss about the Swan’s visit?
There are many. For starters, two of the main pools at Dolphin Marine Magic are smaller than the NSW welfare standard minimums. Rather than complying with welfare standards, the park entertained the Department of Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson’s family, and was soon after granted a new licence that included a ‘variation’ on the number of dolphins allowed in one pool – effectively allowing overcrowding.
Not to mention the fact that the dolphins at Dolphin Marine Magic are at risk of numerous documented issues that go along with keeping dolphins in captivity. Risks to dolphins used for entertainment include exposure to chemicals and foreign objects introduced into pools. They may also suffer from stress-related illnesses, such as ulcers.
It’s safe to say dolphins are probably a lot happier when they’re not being forced to drag a footy team around a pool, or perform repetitive tricks for dead fish.
Dolphin Marine Magic continues to breed dolphins for a lifetime in captivity, guaranteeing they can profit from those that survive, but also ensuring that there is no room for sick or injured wild dolphins that may need care and rehabilitation – which is a legal requirement of all facilities that exhibit dolphins in NSW.
Even without the poor welfare conditions experienced by Bucky and friends at Dolphin Marine Magic, the tide against keeping dolphins for entertainment is turning. Queensland is the only state in Australia where it is legal. Dolphin Marine Magic was established for ‘conservation purposes’. In fact, by keeping dolphins for entertainment, they’re seriously testing the law.
Overseas, the story is the same. India has gone so far as to declare dolphins ‘non-human persons’, and ban dolphinariums.
Last year The National Aquarium in Baltimore cancelled all of its dolphin shows, and put an indefinite moratorium on captive breeding. “Our audience has evolved,” Aquarium CEO John Racanelli said of the decision. “Baby boomers grew up on Flipper, but millennials grew up on Free Willy and The Cove. They are interested in these animals being treated more humanely.”
Racanelli has been advocating for dolphin sanctuaries since the 1980s. He recalls, “There was a dolphin named Shiloh who was in her mid-20s. [One day after she’d done a show she was] returned to her tank, where she lived with three other dolphins. She looked fine, and after feeding and caring for her, the staff left. But when they returned later that day, they found her on the bottom of her tank, dead—probably from cardiopulmonary failure. People said that it was probably because she was old. I thought, ‘That doesn’t seem right. She had to work until she died? Why wasn’t she moved to a sanctuary to live out her life?’”
It’s hard not to draw parallels between Shiloh’s story and that of Bucky at Dolphin Marine Magic. Bucky, who is one of the oldest dolphins in captivity anywhere in the world at 45 years old, is still made to perform up to three times a day over summer. Even though he is in remission from cancer.
Will Bucky be made to perform until the day he dies? The compassionate thing to do would be to retire him to a seaside sanctuary, where he can spend the rest of his days in his natural habitat, experiencing the ebb and flow of the ocean.
If you think that visiting a dolphin show in Australia is a benign activity that may even teach you about dolphins, you need to take a leaf out of the Sydney Swan’s book and think again.