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Coffs Harbour’s Dolphin Marine Magic looks to offshore sea pens for cetacean exhibits
Having been under fire from environmental activists in recent years, Coffs Harbour’s attraction Dolphin Marine Magic has agreed to take part in a feasibility study that could see its captive dolphins relocated to a ‘more natural’ offshore sea pen.
Teaming with animal campaign group Action for Dolphins, the attraction is looking at the possibility of building an ocean sanctuary and moving its captive dolphins there if it is deemed viable and in their best interests.
The joint study is a surprising outcome that was negotiated after Action for Dolphins sued the park.
Action for Dolphins Director Jordan Sosnowski stated “we believed the sea sanctuary gives them the best possible way of life that they can have, and we really do have a duty to give them that.
"Dolphins can't use soundwaves or echolocation to communicate in captivity because the sound waves bounce off the concrete walls.
"The great thing about being in a sea pen is they'll be able to use that primary sense."
During the summer a group of young Coffs Harbour locals picketed outside Dolphin Marine Magic and asked visitors to boycott its dolphin shows.
Protestor Haley Micklosz-Martin told the ABC "They make the dolphins perform before crowds and make them live in chlorinated pools, so we're picketing here to make them stop.”
Micklosz-Martin acknowledged that the park did provide a voice for marine research in the region, but questioned the need to keep captive dolphins but added “if you want to study their behaviour this is not the place to do it. Study them in their natural environment.”
However, Dolphin Marine Magic veterinarian Dr Duan March said the concern was misplaced and the animals were healthy and happy to live and interact with visitors in the park.
Dr March stated “they are in good health in these pools and we can manage them safely.”
Dr March said despite joining forces on the feasibility study, the two organisations were yet to find common ground on a lot of issues.
Sosnowski said the dolphins should be left alone in the sea pens so they could be "provided with a much more natural lifestyle", adding “in a sanctuary there'll be so much more enrichment for them; there'll be currents and tides and fish to look at and a sandy bottom.
Dr March disagreed, commenting “they can't be left alone there, they're going to need to be managed with constant interactions.
"We can't just put them in a pen in the harbour and expect them to be fine.
"They're habituated to management and we can look at transitioning that management from public interactions to open water swims with the public."
The cost of maintaining the pens was also likely to be a major factor in the study.
Dr March concluded “if we find the harbour is a suitable location for the animals there'll be tens of millions of dollars for the construction and then millions of dollars for the upkeep.
"It could be an exciting future for the park and an evolution for us down there in a setting that provides better welfare outcomes for the dolphins."
Images: A marine show at Dolphin Marine Magic (top) and a larger ocean enclosure would allow the dolphins to use their primary sense of eco-location, which they can't use in their concrete pools (below, courtesy of Action for Dolphins).
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