Could Coffs Harbour's beloved dolphins be headed to sea?
AN out-of-court settlement in a legal proceeding against Dolphin Marine Magic will float investigations into whether Coffs Harbour's famed dolphins could potentially be transferred to a sea pen sanctuary.
Court proceedings brought against DMM by Melbourne-based animal welfare group Action for Dolphins (AFD) in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia last year ended in a 'confidential' settlement this week.
A joint statement released today by DMM and AFD announced a feasibility study would be undertaken into a possible sea pen sanctuary.
This would be with a view of relocating the dolphins from DMM's Orlando St attraction, if the independent study found the sanctuary would be in the best interests of the dolphins and financially viable.
One potential site for the sanctuary that's been raised would be in the harbour off the South Wall.
"Both Dolphin Marine Magic and Action for Dolphins are committed to ensuring the well-being of all dolphins and Dolphin Marine Magic will continue its education programmes to ensure the health and safety of all marine life," today's joint statement from both organisations read.
"The feasibility study will look at social, economic and environmental impacts of a potential sea pen in Coffs Harbour."
Action for Dolphins Advocacy Director Jordan Sosnowski explained the court action was filed in April to prompt a process where the performing dolphins could be transferred from the concrete pools of the Orlando St tourist attraction to a more natural tidal setting.
In its defence, DMM - which currently meets all government standards on keeping marine animals in captivity - stated in court that since 2013 it had successfully rehabilitated a number of dolphins, including one that was rehabilitated on-site and released back into the wild.
A further two injured dolphins had since been cared for at the facility and released into the ocean.
Court documents stated that DMM had spent $77,000 in the 12 months ending June 30, 2017 on 'marine mammal rescue, rehabilitation and release activities.'
"It's true we have not really seen eye to eye with Action for Dolphins in the past, but this is chance to bury the hatchet, " DMM veterinarian Duan March said.
"Dolphin welfare is the top priority for both of us and it's a positive thing to address this possibility of sea pens as a better alternative.
"We have no qualms about the dolphins' current welfare at DMM, they are doing well, but this could be a win, win if the study finds the sea pens aren't viable we can put the matter to bed.
"If it is viable, the potential for a sea pen sanctuary in the harbour off the south wall could lead to the evolution of DMM and the rebirth of the company at the harbour.
"With that said though there are a huge number of factors they are going to have to assess, water quality, storm management, disease management, economic feasibility - there's a massive amount of work to go into the study.
"We haven't even sat down to do the scoping study for this feasibility study," he said.
It is understood the study will be conducted in coming months, considering the dolphins' safety and well-being in a sea pen sanctuary.
"We are hoping to have an independent firm, which works in with the NSW Government, conduct the study," Ms Sosnowski said.
Action for Dolphins, formerly known as Australians for Dolphins, has in the past staged several protests outside the marine park.
These actions followed the death of the baby dolphin Ji-Ling in one of the pools in October, 2015.
Ms Sosnowski commended DMM for its action in taking part in a feasibility study saying a number of possible locations on the Coffs Coast would be assessed for a future sea pen sanctuary.
"There is a duty of care to make sure the dolphins can survive (in a sea pen sanctuary), yes Coffs Harbour is a volatile environment when it comes to weather, such as storms, but there would be hydrological evaluations and water quality testing prior to any structure being built," she said.
"This is a very exciting development that DMM is even considering a relocation of the dolphins. It is a great first step reacting to the changed community attitudes towards keeping dolphins in captivity.
"If we can get this off the ground in Coffs Harbour it could set a precedent. We look forward to a positive outcome and making the results of the feasibility study public."