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Dolphins having a whale of a time in Dubai

Zoe Sinclair
Filed on October 22, 2007

DUBAI — The team caring for 28 bottlenose dolphins in Dubai imported from the Solomon Islands yesterday rejected environmentalists’ concerns that they may have been mishandled.

The deal for the dolphins between the Solomon Islands Marine Mammal Education Centre and Exporters Limited and Kerzner Istithmar attracted controversy mainly because a shipment of the company’s dolphins to Mexico in 2003 subsequently saw nine of the dolphins die.

Khaleej Times yesterday visited Dolphin Bay at Atlantis on the Palm Jumeirah where the dolphins were acclimatising in their new home after arriving early Thursday morning following a 30-hour flight from the Solomon Islands.

The mammals, aged between 2 and 14 years, were eating within an hour of arrival at the dolphinarium and showing good health under 24-hour supervision, he said.

Socialising

Yesterday, this reporter could see the dolphins were active, occasionally jumping in the water, surfacing to look around, socialising and making noises.

The dolphins were acclimatising in seven living pools in a covered area to protect against bad weather, and in a few days would have access to a 25-million-litre lagoon.

Murru said four vets were among a highly experienced team involved in the transportation of the 28 dolphins to Dubai.

Kerzner International Chief Marine Officer Frank Murru, who has 30 years’ experience in dealing with dolphins, including developing Atlantis’ sister dolphinarium in the Bahamas, said the Solomon Islands dolphin company was “highly reputable.”

He claimed the deaths of the mammals in 2003 occurred some time after the animals left the care of the export company.

Environmentalists’ concerns previously raised to the Khaleej Times, by both a Peta Asia-Pacific official and UAE environmentalist Ibrahim Al Zu’bi, include the use of wild dolphins because of their claimed high mortality rate in captivity and the cost of the deal - an agency report quoted Solomon Fisheries Minister Nollen Leni as saying each dolphin was worth $200,000 in the Dubai market.

Murru said the cost of the deal would not be disclosed but it was less than the figure quoted and he did not believe the amount of money involved would be the reason for any misuse of the trade.

“The misuse of the trade is with the export and import control and the countries,” he said. “The misuse of the companies the animals are going to. It’s not about the money, it’s about the care given.”

The shipment was conducted because of Dubai and the Solomon Islands strict export and import regulations and membership of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), according to Murru.

Murru said there were not many captive dolphins available for transfer to facilities and the Bahamas facility had been able to establish Dolphin Cay by rescuing dolphins from a facility destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Dolphin Bay will also become Dubai’s first marine animal rescue and rehabilitation facility and the Arabian Gulf’s only centre for stranded animals. It is expected to open at the end of 2008.


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