The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) has grave concerns for four dolphins relocated from the failed Dolphinaris facility in Arizona, to the controversial Coral World Ocean Park in St Thomas USVI. Despite claims of the enclosure at Coral World being a ‘sea sanctuary,’ the animals will now be forced to live in a toxic body of water, whilst continuing to be commercially exploited for the rest of their dismal and probably shortened lives.
Dolphinaris Arizona shipped out its remaining four dolphins last week following the death of ‘Kai,’ the fourth dolphin to mysteriously die at the facility since its grand opening in 2016.
“No conclusions regarding what might have contributed to the health issues of the other dolphins have been made,” say Dolphinaris, yet regardless, their remaining dolphins, who were born in captivity and have only ever known an artificial environment and were exposed to illness, have now been placed directly into a sea pen, putting them and the already compromised Water Bay environment at further risk.
The WCA has been assisting St Thomas advocates over the past year, supporting their fight to stop the introduction of dolphins to the new Coral World dolphin pen.
Chair of Campaigns Working Group at the WCA, Sharyn Taylor explains, “Our team reached out to the now former Commissioner for Tourism, Beverley Nicolson-Doty on two occasions regarding the introduction of cetaceans to the contaminated Water Bay development; we received no response, not even an acknowledgement to our letters. We also wrote to Gertrude (Trudie) Prior, the owner of Coral World Ocean Park, after staff from her facility first initiated contact with the WCA. Disappointingly, all of our respectful letters, that simply asked for dialogue and reasonable requests for information, were completely ignored”.
The WCA continued to support campaigners on the ground in St Thomas, yet knew dolphins would arrive at Coral World soon. “The development had been allowed to go ahead and the writing was on the wall. We all knew it was only a matter of time until dolphins arrived and we would finally learn where they were coming from, but none of us expected the distressing events that have transpired,” said Sharyn.
“Although glad Dolphinaris Arizona reportedly will no longer keep cetaceans captive, we are all devastated these dolphins have ended up at Coral World. It’s difficult to know where to start when questioning this entire situation. There are so many complex issues, disturbing concerns and questionable twists and turns to this sordid story, you could literally write a book about it – It’s staggering”.
What of Coral World’s intended dolphin stock?
In 2012, Trudie Prior reportedly confirmed that her Coral World Park would obtain four dolphins from “another Caribbean captive dolphin facility” but despite public pressure, refused to divulge who would supply them to her.
Now that the aquarium has hastily received the Arizona dolphins, it seems that the Dolphinaris animals could not have been the original intended first residents of Coral World, so we question what happened to the dolphins that were likely being prepared for introduction Coral World? Will they still be used to stock the facility along with the Arizona dolphins? The Coral World permit allows “up to 10 dolphins on a permanent basis and up to 18 animals on a temporary basis once operations (including a captive breeding program) are fully underway.”
Why Coral World?
Given Dolphinaris Arizona seem unable to explain why the four dolphins in its care died, it is disturbing that the surviving four dolphins would be spirited away to Coral World – of all places! The dolphins, all captive bred, and having been kept in artificial facilities their entire lives, have had no preparation or acclimatisation to a sea pen environment. They are likely immunocompromised and potentially carrying contagious pathogens that may eventually kill them or that they could potentially spread to the St Thomas environment, including to wild dolphins and other sea life in the area. Add to this Coral World’s inexperience in keeping cetaceans, and the known noxious water quality issues of the bay in which the dolphins will be kept – the situation is astounding.
Speculation is rife that no other facility was willing to take on board the risk of potentially contagious animals, while Coral World was reportedly ready to receive dolphins and had no other captive dolphins to contaminate.
What better way for Dolphinaris, Dolphin Quest and Coral World to spin a desperate removal of sick dolphins from concrete tanks in the middle of the desert, than to ‘save’ them by relocating them to a brand new “large, natural, ocean fed dolphin sanctuary” – sounds perfect.
Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute points out “this is not a sanctuary – it’s a sea pen dolphinarium in a polluted body of water.
However, Coral World and Dolphin Quest (who own two of the Arizona dolphins) are calling it a sanctuary, so the industry’s frequent criticisms of the authentic sanctuary concept seem hypocritical at best now. Add to this, the size of an authentic sanctuary would be more on the order of all of Water Bay – and not polluted.”
Dr. Rose went on to say, “the industry has always argued that retiring captive cetaceans to sanctuaries would be dangerous; particularly for tank-born cetaceans. They claim that the animals would be unable to handle the pollution and pathogens in the ocean; they would be exposed after knowing nothing but the filtered, treated water of tanks – this argument appears to ring hollow now. Apparently the risk is acceptable when it suits the industry from a management or profit perspective, but not when it is solely for the improvement of the animals’ welfare.”
“Claims that Coral World’s new pen is a ‘sanctuary’ are deceitful,” adds Sharyn. “These animals are not being retired to live out their days without having to work, relaxing in a Caribbean marine mammal retirement village. Coral World Ocean Park is a privately owned, commercially driven business that will exploit these dolphins through selling interactive swim-with encounters until the day the animals die, which, given where they’ve come from and their new situation, might not be that far off – It’s just shameful.”
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