Four bottlenose dolphins are now resident at Dolphin Cove in Morgan’s Harbour in West Bay, making 10 bottlenose dolphins now in Cayman Islands swim-with-dolphin facilities.
Six dolphins were imported by another dolphin facility, Dolphin Discovery, across from Boatswain’s Beach in West Bay, a couple of weeks back.
The two male and two female Dolphin Cove dolphins were brought into Cayman from Dolphin Cove in Jamaica on Tuesday, 9 December.
Although the facility has had family, friends and business associates swimming with the dolphins, it is not yet open for business as it awaits its Certificate of Occupancy.
Dolphin Cove’s Corporate Director of Marine Animals Eric Bogden, who is here to oversee the facility’s opening, explained that the four dolphins are estimated to be around six or seven years old and were all trained by Dolphin Cove’s staff in Jamaica.
The dolphins were brought to Cayman on a cargo plane, accompanied by Dolphin Cove’s consultant vet, amongst others. The transportation went very smoothly and they settled immediately into their new home – a large lagoon adjoining the North Sound, said Mr. Bogden.
‘They are bright eyed, eating well and responding perfectly in the brand new lagoon that they’d never seen before in their lives.
‘They are playing together and following their trainers. I’ve done many moves like this in my career and this one has been the best as it’s exceeded my expectations for how the dolphins are doing,’ he said.
Dolphin Cove has a permit to import 12 dolphins. ‘Right now we wanted to bring in our four and just get started and as the operation is put together and it seems to be the right time we’ll bring in more,’ he said.
A wall of stones separates the dolphin lagoon from the rest of the ocean.
The lagoon is deeper than the one in Ocho Rios, twice as deep in some places, ranging from 15 to 19 feet in some areas. It is 140 by 300 feet in area and contains over 300 million gallons of water.
Dolphin Cove secured its discharge permit (for discharge of effluent) from the Water Authority a few years back and gained a lot of other documentation for bringing in the dolphins.
‘We spent a lot of money and time on getting everything right because we believed it was the correct thing to do to have patience until everything was set with the documents,’ said Mr. Bogden.
Now it is just a few details that need to be ironed out for the Certificate of Occupancy, he said.
‘The cruise lines are as excited about our opening as we are, the dolphins and humans are ready and once we get permission to open we’ll have cruise lines and locals ready to swim,’ he said.
In light of the fact that there are two swim-with-dolphin attractions now in the Cayman Islands and with cruise numbers down on previous years, Mr. Bogden admitted that the tough economic times are a concern.
‘I think every business in this economic climate has the same feelings,’ he said. ‘We recognise that it’s a gift to get a guest and we are gearing up to give exceptional customer service and we want to give people an appreciation of wanting to conserve the environment and a greater appreciation of the animals they get to experience,’ he said.
The facility is starting out with an install team of 15 staff members including a Director of Zoological Operations and senior trainers from Jamaica and the US.
They are in the process of interviews, with Caymanians as the main focus, to ramp up staff numbers to 40 with the plan for a year from now to have about 120 on board.
Mr. Bogden said that the aim is to not to just create jobs in Cayman, but to create careers in marine animal science.
Local groups, including Keep Dolphins Free in the Cayman Islands and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association are against captive dolphin facilities for many reasons, including the industry’s links with capturing dolphins from the wild. The CITA has sought a ban on the future importation of dolphins into Cayman, claiming dolphins should breed in captivity if they thrive in their captive environment.
Within Dolphin Cove’s three facilities there are 20 dolphins and according to Mr. Bogden so far they have only had two stillborn calves from first time mothers through their breeding programme. But he believes that with younger animals soon coming into calf bearing age that they can soon start breeding one to two calves a year.
It would likely be two to three years before the dolphins in the Cayman Islands reach sexual maturity, he said.
The dolphins are given lots of stimulation and activity each day with their trainers, Mr. Bogden said.
Along with a dolphin encounter and swim programme Dolphin Cove also aims to introduce a shallow water programme that is available nowhere else.
And it has other plans in store for the park that it is not yet ready to reveal. ‘We plan to develop this into a world class marine animal park,’ said Mr. Bogden.
‘Our philosophy here is we want to do the best we can for the animals and to bring this experience to the Cayman Islands,’ he said.
They are considering putting a restaurant and additional retail in the three storey building at Dolphin Cove. ‘We’d like to fit it out to make it a destination. Because of our experience we realise that if you have the right anchor attraction it can drive tourism to the Cayman Islands,’ said Mr. Bogden.
Asked how they feel about the campaigns against dolphin facilities in Cayman, Mr. Bogden said, ‘I’ve been doing this for almost a quarter of a century and I don’t see the controversy’.
Meanwhile, it was understood that the other dolphin facility, Dolphin Discovery, which has been open for business since last Monday, still had not secured a discharge permit by press time, however, this was not confirmed by the Water Authority by press time. A variation on the Turtle Farm’s discharge licence is needed in order for Dolphin Discovery to discharge its effluent.
It is understood that neither of the dolphin facilities as yet have operational licences as they have never been issued for any commercial animal operations in the Cayman Islands, although the Animals Law does require it. This is because the enabling regulations necessary for issuing these licences are not in place.
Mr. Billy Adam of Keep Dolphins Free in the Cayman Islands lambasted the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Office and successive Cayman governments for breaking laws. ‘It is the constitutional responsibility of the FCO through their Governor to ensure good governance in the Cayman Islands and the breaking of laws by Government is poor governance.
‘They didn’t meet conditions and they were allowed to import dolphins,’ he said. ‘The UK has allowed successive Cayman governments to break the laws repeatedly and that’s why there’s so much corruption here.
‘This is a fundamental problem – our Governments repeatedly choose which laws to abide by and which laws to break,’ he said. ‘When you choose which laws to abide by and which laws to break you live in a lawless society.’
General Manager of Dolphin Discovery Carlos Moreno said that they have had cruise visitors and locals visit the facility and he expects that it will take three months for it to get steadily busy.
Developer of Dolphin Discovery Gene Thompson said that they are finding it very difficult to recruit Caymanians and he appealed for anyone interested in a job to come forward.
Dolphin Cove has not yet set its prices while at Dolphin Discovery swim with dolphins for residents start at CI$79 for adults and CI$69 for children. Entrance to the Dolphin Discovery facility is free.