After a year of preparations, 2008 finished with 10 bottlenose dolphins arriving in the Cayman Islands for the swim-with-dolphin facilities – Dolphin Cove and Dolphin Discovery.
But much had happened earlier in the year on the whole dolphin issue.
In May the Cayman Islands Tourism Association called for a future ban on importing any cetaceans (whales and dolphins) into the Cayman Islands.
Although import permits had already been granted to the two dolphin entertainment facilities being set up in West Bay, the private sector tourism group called for that to be the only time importation or keeping of dolphins could occur.
President of the CITA Stephen Broadbelt explained the thinking behind the ban. ‘If the developers’ claims are true, the dolphins will be happy and thrive in their artificial environment and there will be no need to import or replace them, helping to stop the dolphin drives that take free dolphins from the wild and place them into captivity.’
If, however, the dolphins live short lives and do not successfully breed in captivity, they will die a slow death in less than a decade, said a statement from the CITA.
In September the CITA presented a position paper to the Minister of Tourism and Environment Charles Clifford calling again for the ban on the future importation of dolphins.
‘Once again, we beseech the Cayman Islands Government to seriously consider the implementation of a ban on the future import of cetaceans, as other nations have done, to protect these marine mammals, the environment, the reputation of the Cayman Islands, our large water-associated tourism product and the culture and heritage of these islands,’ the introduction to the paper read.
In November of 2008 both dolphin facilities were preparing to open in December but had no concrete dates set.
Then, on 4 December, Dolphin Discovery, located across the road from Boatswain’s Beach on North West Point Road, flew six bottlenose dolphins into Grand Cayman.
The Department of Agriculture confirmed it was satisfied with the animals’ condition and welfare on arrival.
Within 20 minutes of them being in the water they were eating and playing, said Dolphin Discovery developer Mr. Gene Thompson. The dolphin lagoon exchanges 15 million gallons of water per day with the sea, is slightly under an acre and goes to a depth of 14 feet.
Dolphin Discovery opened for business on 15 December. General Manager of Dolphin Discovery Carlos Moreno said that they have had tourists and locals visit the facility and he expects that it will take three months for it to get steadily busy.
Dolphin Cove, located at Morgan’s Harbour, brought in four bottlenose dolphins on 9 December and was expecting to open up for business as soon as it got is Certificate of Occupancy.
The dolphins settled in to their new home well, said dolphin Cove’s Corporate Director of Marine Animals Eric 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.
At Dolphin Cove 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. It is 140 by 300 feet in area and contains over 300 million gallons of water.
But some permits had still not been granted for the parks despite the dolphins being imported.
Although Dolphin Cove had acquired a discharge permit from the Water Authority some years ago, Dolphin Discovery still did not have one by the time it brought its dolphins in.
As a lessee of the Turtle Farm, a Variation on the Turtle Farm discharge permit was needed to allow Dolphin Discovery to operate through that
Mr. Billy Adam of the group Keep Dolphins Free in the Cayman Islands, was very unhappy about the fact that permits were outstanding the parks were allowed to press ahead towards opening.
‘That should have been in place before the dolphins arrived,’ Mr. Adam stated of the discharge permit.
Also, neither dolphin facility possessed 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. Adam said, ‘This is a fundamental problem – our Governments repeatedly choose which laws to abide by and which laws to break.
‘When you choose which laws to abide by and which laws to break you live in a lawless society.’