An argument in favor of a dolphinarium
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The following is from testimony to the Coastal Zone Management Commission:
The cetaceans are here. They abound in our waters, both as indigenous and migratory species. They are our neighbors. They share the eco system in which we work and play. Yet, in the 21st century, the Virgin Islands, the most remote Atlantic Ocean ecology in the United States of America and host to one of the top marine biology colleges in the world, cannot render immediate assistance to distressed cetaceans.
The lack of such ability is mind-boggling, and given the sheer numbers and frequency of dolphin visitations in our waters, it is mere dumb luck that our mariners have had relatively few accidents with them. Should a dolphin become distressed or disabled, through nature or act of man, and given their protected status, would it not be wise for the Virgin Islands to have skilled and experienced dolphin technicians on-hand?
Government cannot provide the funds and resources to run a marine institute. Private aquariums fill the gap. The fees paid by visitors for educational wildlife encounters feed the animals, get them medical care unavailable in the wild, allows for partnerships with scientific marine study institutes and provides enormous research insight that helps us deal with dolphins in the wild.
Aquariums attract scientists and university studies. Properly done, they link with communities to provide both paid and unpaid internships. Practical hands-on education has proven a reliable method of introducing young people to the environment in a safe, controlled and predictable setting.
While I am not a scientist, I do speak from thousands of hours of SCUBA diving experience in the waters of St. Thomas and St. John and as a boat owner. As an underwater photographer and rescue diver making almost daily dives in our waters, I have had hundreds of dolphin encounters. My dolphin and whale experiences have made me wonder for years why the Virgin Islands is not a world leader in cetacean studies.
The simple answer is money.
Today, we only have chance recreational observation of cetaceans in Virgin Islands waters. The heroic annual efforts of the Environmental Association of St. Thomas/St. John (EAST) and sporadic university studies are all the Virgin Islands, haven to marine mammals from all over the Western Hemisphere, can offer.
I am in favor of a dolphinarium at Coral World as first, the lesser of two evils, and second, a scientific and economic opportunity with decent trickle down to the community.
There is the "potential" environmental impact as well as dog and cat owners yelling "dolphin slavery" versus captive environment research that can lead to better ways for mankind to help a species endangered through human activities.
I have to fall in favor of scientific and practical research that can help save the species by harboring a few rather than simply letting dolphins take their chances in nature to recover.
I believe Coral World to be the type of institution that keeps animals not merely as a profit motive, but also as a tool to teach and educate locals and visitors about the environment.
If Coral World partners with the University of the Virgin Islands College of Marine Biology to provide both paid and unpaid research interns at the high school, graduate and post graduate levels, I have no problem with a dolphinquarium.
If Coral World agrees to develop an emergency treatment and staging area for cetacean rescue, I have no problem with a dolphinarium.
If Coral World utilizes its resources to educate charter boats and SCUBA diving companies on how best to deal with wild dolphin encounters, I have no problem with a dolphinarium. Lastly, through my many experiences over the years, I have learned to place more confidence in Coral World to respond to wildlife situations during nights and weekends than in the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. DPNR has manpower shortages and that gap is so often filled by Coral World being a good corporate citizen.
This past year I witnessed an individual attempting to keep a Hawksbill turtle caught on his fishing line at Mandahl Bay. When I convinced him to release the turtle to me, I saw its fin was torn and bleeding from the fisherman's attempt to tear out the fish hook. It was a weekend evening and Fish and Wildlife could not be reached and emergency services kept giving me different numbers to call without success. I finally called STAR (Sea Turtle Assistance and Rescue) and within 11 minutes, Erica Palmer from Coral World showed up with an assistant and provided medical treatment for the turtle, weighed and measured it and released it back to sea.
With that type of wildlife response and 24/7 service, I believe that we can only benefit by Coral World having staff on-hand that are experienced in handling cetacean issues.
- Karl Callwood, St. Thomas