Six bottlenose dolphins are now resident at Dolphin Discovery’s swim-with-dolphin facility in West Bay.
The two female and four male dolphins were flown in Thursday evening.
‘Within 20 minutes of them being in the water they were eating and then they were playing, they were flipping and waving. I thought it was pretty amazing,’ said local developer of Dolphin Discovery Gene Thompson.
The Department of Agriculture, which has a regulatory role in this whole process, confirmed to the Caymanian Compass that it was satisfied with the animals’ condition and welfare on arrival.
Dolphin Discovery, located right alongside Boatswain’s Beach parking lot, will be open to the public around 15 December, said Mr. Thompson.
Roberto Sanchez, Marine Veterinarian for Dolphin Discovery, described the transport of the dolphins, which are worth thousands of dollars, from Dolphin Discovery in Tortola, BVI.
‘We brought them by plane. Each animal was in a box. We covered them with cream so they wouldn’t get dehydrated and we continually sprayed them with ice. They were in a mixture of ice and water. The transport went really, really smooth. We didn’t have any trouble at all.’
Inside the box each dolphin was in a stretcher, from which they were hoisted from their box into the lagoon which exchanges 15 million gallons of water per day with the sea, is slightly under an acre and goes to a depth of 14 feet.
Billy Adam of campaign group Keep Dolphins Free in the Cayman Islands is unhappy about many aspects of the process of bringing the dolphins in, not least that the mammals were brought in, as he said ‘under cover of darkness’ at nighttime.
He criticised the Government saying it appeared that some required permits had not been issued.
‘It’s just another example of poor governance that these licences have not been fully granted. The Government is setting a bad example by not requiring compliance with the laws,’ he said.
It is understood Dolphin Discovery still does not have a discharge permit (for discharge of effluent), required under Water Authority Law. Confirmation of this and responses to questions on this issue remained unanswered by the Water Authority at press time.
As a lessee of the Turtle Farm, a Variation on the Turtle Farm discharge permit is needed to allow Dolphin Discovery to operate through that
‘That should have been in place before the dolphins arrived,’ Mr. Adam stated.
Mr. Thompson said this issue is in the hands of the Turtle Farm as Dolphin Discovery is not discharging into the ocean but into the Turtle Farm’s system.
Mr. Thompson said he is confident that his facility’s discharge is virtually nothing.
‘We have committed to the Turtle Farm to work with them to have zero discharge. We’ve built our own accumulator so that we can absolutely test our water.’
The Animals Law requires an operating licence for the public display of animals and Mr. Adam said his understanding was that one had not yet been granted by the Department of Agriculture.
Mr. Adam said he also understood there are no regulations in place governing such facilities in the Cayman Islands. The DoA had not responded to questions on these issues by press time.
The DoA did note that the Animal Import Licence granted for the dolphins was subject to the importers satisfying an extensive list of conditions governing the Importation, Housing and Husbandry, and Use of Bottlenose Dolphins in the Cayman Islands.
‘Only when these conditions were met to the satisfaction of the Department of Agriculture, was final approval granted for the animals to be landed,’ an email from DoA stated.
Mr. Adam pointed out that there had been a problem with Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species documents for a couple of the eight original dolphins being brought in and that was why only six dolphins had come.
The country of export, BVI, needed to prepare a re-export document for the mammals.
The Department of Environment in Cayman is the Cayman Islands Scientific Authority under CITES and they had to advise the Management Authority (The Ministry of Tourism and Environment) of the validity and accuracy of the CITES documentation.
‘When we were presented with the CITES permits for Dolphin Discovery the permits were for eight dolphins. We had questions about trade records for two of them and we needed to get those clarified before we were prepared to sign off totally on the CITES permits,’ said DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie. ‘So Dolphin Discovery took the decision that they would import those animals with which we had no CITES issues.’
She stated that DoE’s role in this whole process is not a regulatory role, but an advisory one.
‘We have advised other agencies on other issues but we have no legal regulatory role in this process other than through our advice to the Management Authority on CITES permit issues,’ said Ms Ebanks-Petrie.
Dolphin Discovery staff expect the dolphins will breed. ‘One of the females, she already had a calf, so for sure we’re going to have a calf,’ said Mr. Sanchez. ‘Also, Dolphin Discovery has a huge breeding programme in all our locations so for sure here is not going to be an exception. We have now about 32 or 34 calves born in captivity in Dolphin Discovery,’ he said.
Staff said that Cayman’s dolphins will not need to be replaced in as they had been earmarked for Cayman for some time.
The trainers explained that the training method used on the dolphins involves reinforcing the behaviour they want to see with food, company of other animals, games and toys while ignoring behaviour that they do not want to encourage.
Every day the dolphins are given a physical exam along with more thorough weekly and periodic health check ups, said Mr. Sanchez.
General Manager Carlos Moreno explained that there is 22 staff currently at the facility who came from other Dolphin Discovery locations, with plans to expand to about 50 staff in the first year with at least 25 per cent Caymanians who can be trained in order to send other staff members back to their original facilities.
Mr. Thompson said they have made efforts to recruit Caymanians and really want to see more come forward.
Mr. Moreno said they are working with Boatswain’s Beach on a hurricane plan that would involve putting the dolphins in that facility for a category three or above, but that is in the planning stages and until then the plan is to take them to the Grand Pavilion swimming pool. ‘It’s covered, it has a generator, it’s well protected,’ said Mr. Moreno.
Mr. Adam does not feel Grand Pavilion is a suitable plan.
‘It was six feet under when Hurricane Ivan came. It is not a hurricane resistant swimming pool,’ he said.
Mr. Sanchez said Dolphin Discovery has lots of experience in doing hurricane evacuations with dolphins and they’ve never had a casualty during that process.
Mr. Thompson said he would say to those against captive dolphin facilities to come and see Dolphin Discovery for themselves and to ask any questions they want.
He explained that the building was built to withstand hurricanes. It includes a large gift shop, orientation room where participants watch an instructional DVD before their experience, offices, editing room, digital photography processing room, changing rooms, showers, restrooms, feed preparation room, fish freezer room.
Photographers and videographers capture the experiences of the guests with the dolphins and DVDs and photos are available for viewing and purchase afterwards.