Five Curaçao dolphins off to a new destination

With heavy hearts all staff and employees of the Sea Aquarium Park waved goodbye to five dolphins that departed this morning aboard a cargo plane of air transport company DFS. The aircraft, which has Saudi Arabia as its destination. They will make a stopover in Cairo for a water change for the dolphins and for refuelling.
Their final destination will be Jeddah, where the dolphins will find a new home at Fakieh Aquarium. On board of the aircraft the animals were accompanied by the Director of Dolphins of the Curaçao facility, an internationally leading veterinarian on marine mammals, the Director of Dolphins of Fakieh Aquarium, and the chief trainer of that aquarium.
The decision to reduce the number of dolphins at the Sea Aquarium Park was not an easy one, but among other things became necessary because of financial, economic, and operational aspects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic that started more than two years ago. This led to Curaçao Sea Aquarium Park and all associated companies closing for more than 7 weeks in 2020, and for almost two months in 2021. Periods during which the companies received no income at all.
The personnel cost for the total of approximately 150 employees, as well as the operational cost on the other hand, continued unabated. And that is without mentioning the cost of about ANG 100,000 per container for the bi-monthly container shipments of fish as food for the dolphins. The subsidies provided by the Curaçao government (NOW and TVL) to partially cover personnel and operational costs, were therefore indispensable and without these subsidies the companies would not have survived the COVID-19 pandemic. The financial reserves available for the companies were completely depleted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
An additional factor for considering reducing the number of dolphins at the facility, was the fact that ever since 2017 the Sea Aquarium's lagoons had already exceeded their maximum capacity for dolphins. Ever since that time a targeted search for potential new homes for some of the dolphins had therefore already been underway. As the welfare of the dolphins was paramount, facilities that showed interest in the animals but could not meet the set requirements and conditions, or which were excluded because of external circumstances, were not eligible as options to receive any of the dolphins.
There are a total of 17 dolphins at Dolphin Academy Curaçao, and 5 dolphins at Curaçao Dolphin Therapy Centre. Classified as Tursiops Truncatus, these dolphins are listed on Annex II of the 'Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora' (CITES), an international agreement on the trade in protected animals and plants that the European Union (EU), and 183 other countries adhere to.
Dolphin Academy Curaçao nor the Curaçao Dolphin Therapy Center own any of the dolphins but lease these from a holding company. With the capacity of the lagoons and the welfare of the dolphins in mind, the holding company therefore opted for lowering the number of dolphins, and started exploring various options. Fakieh Aquarium in Jeddah turned out to be a very viable option with the best available facilities. This resulted in talks with that aquarium for the transfer of five Curaçao-born dolphins, consisting of three female and two male dolphins, ranging in age from 5 to 10 years.
To qualify for the issuance of a CITES export licence, detailed information had to be provided to the competent authorities in Curaçao about for example the transport logistics that have to be carried out in complete accordance with IATA guidelines, and have to be based on conditions stipulated by CITES rules and regulations. Additional information about Fakieh Aquarium in Jeddah regarding animal welfare, the aftercare of the animals and extensive documentation had to be provided for approval by the authorities. Furthermore, a detailed transport plan had to be submitted containing the dimensions, construction materials and how the animals would be received in their new home after arrival in Jeddah.
For the CITES representative in Curaçao, the detailed documentation was sufficient to clear up any ambiguities regarding the transport and the animal welfare aspects in Jeddah, while the CITES representative had also received confirmation that the transport and the reception of the animals had been carefully prepared. Additionally, the Director of Dolphins at Curaçao Sea Aquarium Park not only accompanied the animals to Jeddah to ensure a safe transition, but he will also remain there for a period to ensure a seamless transition of the animals into the care of their new handlers.
While a collaboration agreement was signed with Fakieh Aquarium for the duration of a year to provide the Jeddah facility with advice and support with regards to the dolphins, Fakieh Aquarium committed itself to do everything in its power to provide the dolphins with the best possible facilities in Jeddah.

Adriaan “Dutch” Schrier
Curaçao

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