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Two old foes join hands to help save three young dolphins

If the Park is forced to close, these three – Zippy, who is 32, Bella, 15, and Jet, 9 – will be left homeless.

The relationship between the Conservation Park and the animal advocates began to thaw in 2018 when Terry Goodall took over as managing director. He began talks with the advocates rather than dismissing their concerns, and they were reassured after he invited independent experts to check on the welfare of the animals in the park.

“We agreed to disagree on a lot of things,” says Mr Goodall of the early conversations, “but we all agreed that the welfare of the dolphins came first.”

The three siblings have spent much of the lockdown looking for their usual visitors, flicking balls to staff in the hopes of starting a game.

Soon after the first meetings the Conservation Park announced it would no longer breed dolphins. Thoughts then turned to the animals’ retirement, and the park developed a plan with the welfare advocates to build a semi-wild sanctuary for them in Coffs Harbour.


The project would involve building a permanently netted semi-wild sanctuary inside the harbour that could house the retired animals but also be used for the rehabilitation of injured sea life.

“The fish might not like it, with three predatory animals penned off in the harbour, but they would work it out pretty quickly,” he says.

A feasibility study suggests such a sanctuary is possible. The water quality is suitable, but expensive tests on the auditory impact of the boats that use the area need to be carried out.

Representatives for Action for Dolphins and the Park have met with locals who use the harbour as well as local, state and federal politicians.

According to Goodall, the response has been positive. Many in Coffs Harbour have grown up with the dolphins and the park is a key tourist attraction.

But with the park now closed because of coronavirus there are fears it might collapse before the pen is built, and without the skills to survive in the wild the dolphins would have to be found a new home or euthanised.

The problem is that campaigns against dolphin captivity have proved so successful in Australia that only one other facility exists: Sea World on the Gold Coast. Even if a home could be found for them there, they could be housed in pools with 30 other dolphins, says Angie Plummer, a spokeswoman for Action for Dolphins.

And if the park collapsed it could no longer carry out its crucial work in rehabilitation injured sea animals in NSW.

So now the two old foes are working together to lobby for support for the park and the sea pen.


“A project such as this one could really help a regional city like Coffs get back on its feet when travel restrictions are lifted,” says Ms Sosnowski. “If the Treasurer is wondering how to spend a small fraction of the $60 billion JobKeeper windfall, here is a very worthy candidate.”

Mr Goodall says it has taken both parties time to build trust with one another.

Action for Dolphins remains philosophically opposed to animal captivity.

Mr Goodall agrees that animals should no longer be taken from the wild unless it is for their welfare.

The Dolphin Park will open on Tuesday, though with limited numbers, and Mr Goodall believes the dolphins will be as relieved as his staff.

The three siblings have spent much of the lockdown prowling the edges of their pools, looking for their usual visitors, flicking balls to staff in the hopes of starting a game.

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