The owner of Dolphin Discovery says he has no plans to free six stingrays at the facility despite the passage of a legal amendment outlawing the removal of rays from Cayman waters or possession of the animals.
Gene Thompson said that since the stingrays were already at Dolphin Discovery when the amendments to the Marine Conservation Law was passed in the Legislative Assembly last month, he was “grandfathered in” and the amended law did not apply in this case.
He said Dolphin Discovery was in a similar position as the Cayman Turtle Farm, which is exempt from the provision of the Marine Conservation Law governing the possession of turtles.
Mr. Thompson insisted that he did not intend to release the rays because having them at the dolphinarium enables tourists who do not have the time or the opportunity to get to the Sandbar to interact with the stingrays and see them up close. Six stingrays remain in a tank at Dolphin Discovery where tourists can view the animals while visiting the facility.
The rays were taken from the sea by fishermen who then exchanged them for bait from Dolphin Discovery.
“Those rays would have been dead if we had not taken them,” said Mr. Thompson. Four other rays that had also been handed over to Dolphin Discovery by fishermen were freed last year after it was discovered that they were carrying tags placed on them during a census count of the rays at the Sandbar.
At the time, the only legislation to protect the animals were sections of the Marine Conservation Law prohibiting the removal of any wildlife from the Sandbar or Stingray City, which are designated as Wildlife Interaction Zones, and from marine parks or designated environmental zones. Until the new amendments were passed last month, it was legal to take stingrays from any other area.
The Department of Environment relocated the freed four rays to the Sandbar in October last year.
Environment minister Mark Scotland said it would be up to the Department of Environment to enforce the law regarding the capture of stingrays. Referring to the situation at Dolphin Discovery, he said: “I don’t know what the position would be there, whether it would be grandfathered or not.”
The Department of Environment is looking into what steps can be taken to return the remaining six rays to the sea. “We are seeking legal advice before we take action on this,” said Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie.
The amended conservation law now reads: “Whoever, in Cayman waters, takes, injures or has in his possession – (a) chitons; (b) periwinkles; (c) bleeding teeth; or (d) rays,
taken from Cayman waters is guilty of an offence.”
However, a glitch to taking any legal action against Dolphin Discovery under the amended law is that it has not yet officially come into effect. Even though lawmakers passed the amended law prior to the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly in March, the governor has not yet signed it into law.
According to the Governor’s Office, the matter is currently with the Legal Department and it is anticipated that it will be gazetted by 7 May.