Saturday, August 05, 2006

New Zealand marine zoo may go without dolphins!

The dolphins have been the key drawcard at the council-owned marine zoo since it opened in the mid-1960s – with one survey finding that three-quarters of visitors had come specifically to see them.

Marineland has one elderly dolphin, called Kelly, left since her performing partner Shona died in April.

Despite a petition by local residents to the Government, the marine zoo is unlikely to win permission to acquire more dolphins, even if the council applies for approval.

Mayor Barbara Arnott said the council was looking for ways to keep Marineland going without the dolphins. "We won't see performing dolphins there ever again."

"We are carrying out an economic analysis of a project that has been put before us, to continue Marineland as a rehabilitation and research centre.

"It would need funding from the Government. We are waiting for the Government's response to the petition, which also asked for central Government funding for Marineland."

Mrs Arnott did not want to see a "hole in the ground" at the zoo's site on Marine Pde, but nor did she want to spend council money to keep it going. She expected visitor numbers to drop off after the dolphin shows ended.

"Ratepayers certainly will not want to fund something that has no return."

Marineland already does a lot of work to rehabilitate injured animals, a situation Mrs Arnott hoped could continue, perhaps with support from the Conservation Department or other government agencies.

Manager Gary Macdonald said Marineland mainly looked after penguins and other seabirds that members of the public found injured. People should not bring in marine mammals such as seals, he said.

"We do some research here already – for example, working with the Conservation Department looking at escape hatches for seals and sea lions caught in squid nets.

"University students come here to carry out research, and we could do more if we had the facilities."

Meanwhile, Kelly the dolphin was still performing "absolutely superbly" every day.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"