Is a dolphin sea pen in the harbour the best option?
RSPCA Australia has today commended Dolphin Marine and Action for Dolphins for their collaborative work to explore the feasibility of a sea pen dolphin sanctuary in Coffs Harbour.
The parties this week reached an out of court agreement, after ADF filed action against the Coffs Harbour tourist attraction as a means of prompting investigations into rehousing it's dolphins in a tidal sea pen enclosure.
"RSPCA Australia agrees this is an important opportunity for the dolphins currently held by Dolphin Marine Magic to live the remainder of their lives in a more natural environment, as long as it is safe and meets their welfare needs,” the organisation said in a statement.
"A sea sanctuary is made up of a large netted saltwater pen, which is protected from harsh weather and tidal surges, and usually housed in a sheltered cove or harbour.
The RSPCA said sea pens can provide a more natural environment for captive dolphins but the process needs careful consideration, substantial planning and will also require substantial financial support.
The RSPCA has long been opposed keeping dolphins in captivity for the purpose of entertainment, as scientific evidence shows their needs cannot be adequately met or provided for in a captive environment.
"Although this is a positive step forward, the RSPCA continued to urge for captive breeding to also be ceased immediately, which would ultimately assist in future relocation efforts and prevent future captivity.”
DMM veterinarian Duan March said the welfare of the dolphins, some which have been rescued and others born into captivity, was paramount.
"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.
Action for Dolphin's Jordan Sosnowski said a company that currently works in with the State Government would be engaged to undertake the sea pen study.
"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."
She said it was widely hoped Coffs Harbour could set a worldwide precedent and the city could continue to benefit from the tourist appeal of DMM and its marine animal rehabilitation.
The relocation of Dolphin Marine Magic was first floated under the previous Labor State Government, meanwhile Jetty Dive operator Mike Davey has previously raised the suggestion in The Advocate of the State Government building an artificial diving reef off the South Wall for enhance Coffs Harbour's tourist appeal with an all weather dive and snorkel site.