A marine theme-park is being sued by an animal welfare group which claims dolphins at the park are confined in small, shallow concrete pools and overworked.
The Animal Law Institute, which is acting for For Dolphins, filed a statement of claim in the Federal Circuit Court on Tuesday claiming Coffs Harbour-based Dolphin Marine Magic has engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct by keeping dolphins in enclosures smaller than legally allowed, while claiming to meet government welfare standards.
“The dolphins … are not all happy and are not all healthy,” the writ says.
“Dolphins in captivity suffer stress, behavioural abnormalities, high mortality rates, decreased longevity, breeding problems and welfare is generally compromised in artificial, captive environments.”
The park’s pod of five bottlenose dolphins perform in a pool before a public grandstand twice a day. The park also has 11 seals, penguins, peacocks and turtles among its exhibits.
Melbourne-based For Dolphins has been campaigning against the park since 2014, claiming the pools where it keeps dolphins are too small and that the animals are forced to perform in “demeaning” shows, and kiss members of the public.
The group alleges the park has engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct by claiming animal enclosures are large enough, and that “rehabilitation is at the heart” of the park’s mission.
The writ alleges the secondary dolphin pool – the show pool – at the marine park is smaller than NSW government standards allow.
They allege the pool is shallower than the 1.8-metres required by government standards, and has less than the 600-cubic-metres of water-capacity required.
The group says this is the first time n Consumer Law, rather than animal-welfare laws, has been used in a dolphin-welfare case.
Conservation groups have successfully used consumer law to sue egg farms that were claiming their product was “free-range” when their hens were unable to access outdoor areas.
“Just as it’s illegal to sell someone ‘free range’ eggs from hens in battery cages, the case alleges it’s against the law to tell people captive dolphins are ‘happy and healthy’, when scientific evidence shows they cannot thrive in concrete pools,” advocacy director at For Dolphins Jordan Sosnowski said.
The government investigated the pool in 2015 and found it was large enough, but the writ claims it does not meet minimum legal standards. In 2016, the government gave the park an exemption on its licence allowing it to continue to use the pool.
It is also alleged the park keeps 11 seals at its Seal Shores exhibit, breaching government standards which limit it to a maximum of six.
The facility has only rehabilitated one dolphin on-site between 2010 and 2015, the writ claims. Only two dolphins at the park are rescue dolphins, while the rest have been bred in captivity, it is alleged.
for Dolphins plans to call on experts to testify that captive dolphins suffer stress, anxiety and early death.
The group also alleges a young dolphin who died in 2015, named Ji-Ling, was not given a high-standard of medical care.
A spokeswoman for Dolphin Marine Magic said it would issue a statement addressing the allegations on its website at a later date.