Chicago, IL

More Dolphins, more dolphins and yet MORE Dolphins

Worldwide, Dolphinariums are the hottest new tourism Commodity

Every day I find an article about new Dolphinariums being planned or under construction.  A pair of projects in China to build ‘Super parks’ to the tune of a half a billion dollars each, a converted swimming pool in Pakistan that features a Dolphin and a Beluga, a new proposal in Australia, and yesterday I found out about Coral World in the U.S. Virgin Islands in St. Thomas.

Artist Rendering of Proposed Dolphin Pens

The eye of the Hurricane

Coral World received the go-ahead from the local government to begin building out their expansion to make room for 4-6 Dolphins in an enclosure in the bay.  The pens will allow a ‘swim with Dolphins’ program and a fresh water supply system that can flush out the enclosure.  Coral World has been wiped out TWICE by hurricanes to the extent that it was nearly abandoned; yet the emergency plan for their proposed dolphin family is to put them in crates inside a building should a hurricane threaten.  In the event the dolphins cannot be secured in this way, they will be trapped inside a sea pen where the storm would thrash them about inside their structures and most likely up violently thrown about onto the land.

Financial Struggles

At one point Coral World was unable to renew their business insurance due to the very real possibility of devastation from a hurricane and ended up in court where they lost a suit for failure to pay a premium.  In the end, they split coverage between two carriers and reduced their total liability to only 1.5 million dollars of total coverage.  About 10% of the investment the owners have in the park.  That is bad business, and certainly would not provide resources to rebuild the Dolphin pens if and when it is hit by the next Hurricane.  Where would the surviving Dolphins go if Coral World did not have the financial wherewithal to survive?

Coral World hasn’t made a profit in 14 years.  Visitor reviews describe it as a ‘kitchy, run-down, gift shop’.  One would think that financial resources would be necessary for the care of captive Dolphins.  Veterinarians, professional trainers, equipment, medications, emergency services and food.  Placing animals in a business that has failed to demonstrate the ability to support itself, let alone 4-6 new live Dolphins seems absurd.  In an excerpt from a court transcription, the motivation for a ‘Swim with Dolphins’ program is undeniable, to attempt to attract the Cruise lines and their 14,000 annual visitors to St. Thomas to see the Dolphins, and spend their money in the community.

Trudy Prior Coral World St. Thomas

Trudie Prior operates Coral World with her husbands’ money.  He is a telecommunications mogul and she is the ultimate networker.  Serving on nearly every board you could imagine in the community from the community college, to the tourism board to unbelievably, the Humane Society.  She has leveraged power and influence in the community and was able to easily persuade local government to approve the building plans on what appears on the surface to be completely illogical.  Prior makes bold assertions about the sweeping economic benefit her expansion will bring to St. Thomas businesses from hotels to cab drivers and claims that Coral World business will increase from a net loss to a $4 million dollar a year profit.

Are advocates making, or losing ground?

In a time where the outcry to stop capturing, transport and display of Dolphins is nearing mass, it is somewhat disturbing that there has been no significant Governmental action to begin to throttle down and diminish the trade and transport of Dolphins.  Although a number of permits are needed through NOAA, NFMS and accreditation through display organizations such as WAZA and AZA, it appears that the process is all but a formality.  Dolphins that originate from ‘Drive Hunt’ fisheries such as Taiji, Japan, need only to be parked in a transitional aquarium in Asia long enough to be determined in “Human Care” before they are passed around on breeding loans to new display locations.  Although precedent setting Legislation has now been proposed in the U.S. by New York Senator Greg Ball, it appears the gloves are off all over the world in an industry that may be regulated, but does not have enforcement.

Ric O’Barry with the ‘Dolphin Project’ was among the first advocates to provide resources for fighting the Coral World plans in 2011.  However, the government was easily swayed despite a fight from local animal advocates.  It seems that connections, money and pre-packaged phrasing from the likes of SeaWorld are holding back the tide of public opinion.  Until the government cracks down and begins denying these new facilities, advocates are only helpful in spreading awareness and hopefully negatively impacting admissions numbers.

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