This month the iconic Pet Porpoise Pool celebrates its 40th birthday. Managing Director Paige Sinclair tells us more …
How and when was the Pet Porpoise Pool first established?
The park was founded by Mr. Hec Goodall, a group of friends, family and local business people back in 1968. The park first opened to the public on Boxing Day 1970, with ‘Droopy’ the dolphin, two emu chicks and four kangaroos.
The collection of animals grew that same year, when an open water dolphin named ‘Mumma’ after a mishap and misjudgment in her leap, landed in a motor boat near Arrawarra, causing her considerable damage, and ‘Swoopy’, a dolphin, joined us from Gold Coast Marineland now (Seaworld).
‘Sophie’ the Elephant Seal pup was rescued near Coffs Harbour with an extensive shark bite on her flank. Later, an adult female and her suckling male calf were rescued after stranding at low tide on an oyster bed near Nambucca. They were badly cut from the oyster shells and sun burned; they were named ‘Sandy’ and ‘Bucky’ (a derivative of Nambucca) after a naming competition.
We still have ‘Bucky’ today, and although he had a bout with cancer a couple of years ago, he is still the dominant alpha male here at the park and he is now ‘fabulous and forty’ years old!
> There is a conservational aspect of the Park…
The park is licensed to rehabilitate and release sick, injured, and orphaned native fauna. The licence is issued by the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water and allows us to care for marine animals that may need a helping human hand. These days we predominately care for and release sick or injured turtles. Each year we release upwards of 20 to 30 turtles.
While we are licensed to look after other marine mammals such as dolphins and seals, we are unable to accept these animals due to space and quarantine issues at this time.
We are working on a master plan for the future, which will address these constraints, and as a result, we have formed a non-profit organisation called ‘Coffs Harbour Animal Rescue Trust’ (CHART). CHART, we envision, will have the facilities to care for the needs of marine mammals and other marine creatures with a goal of returning them to the wild if possible.
> You offer educational programs as well?
This year we formed a strategic alliance with Handybin, a local waste and recycling company. As part of this alliance, we will be educating our guests about the importance of reusing items where possible, recycling, and disposing of rubbish in such a way that it does not affect our native marine animals in the ocean.
During our ‘edutaining’ Marine Magic Presentations, one of our seals demonstrates the correct place to put rubbish discarded carelessly; they pick it up and place it in a bin, showing our guests that if a seal can do it, so can they!
Additionally this year, we developed a series of lessons for students from Kindergarten to Year 6, where we send out an ‘Education Officer’ to the classroom, which supports the National Education curriculum. The Ed-venture Programs are growing in demand and are very affordable for schools.
> Describe the Pet Porpoise Pool experience.
We are touted as the most ‘interactive marine park’ in the world. Every guest who comes to the park has plenty of opportunities to interact with our animals. Playing with the dolphins before and after the ‘Marine Magic Presentation’, receiving ‘fishy’ kisses from both the dolphins and seals, feeding the Little Blue Penguins and fish in the reef tank, are just a few of the activities included in the entry fee.
But, if you have always dreamt of getting a little closer to magnificent marine mammals such as dolphins and seals, we offer in the water experiences, which are very popular with children, adults and families.
We like to think that every guest who visits the park, whether they choose to be actively involved or just sit back and observe, will remember feeling like they have been … touched by magic!
> The Pet Porpoise Pool is the only facility in NSW to have dolphins in captivity. Introduce us to some of the stars of the show …
‘Bucky’, who turns 40-years-old this year, is the star, and his son ‘Zippy’ now 22-years-old, are the main show dolphins. ‘Calamity’, now in her early-twenties, was rescued after nearly losing her tail fluke to fishing line and kelp that was wrapped tightly around it.
She was returned to the wild after a lengthy rehabilitation process, and eighteen months later she was found again with the same problem. She now permanently resides with us here at the park and is the mother of ‘Bella’, now 5 years old and baby ‘Jet’, who turns one this December.
Both ‘Calamity’ and ‘Bella’ meet our guests in the water, while ‘Jet’ will start his career with a new interactive program called ‘Meet the Babies’, which we will initiate this December – so stay tuned.
> It’s not just dolphins we’ll find at the park. Who else might we meet there?
We are home to the largest colony of the endangered Australian Sea Lion in the world, successfully breeding three generations of seals in captivity. Along with two New Zealand Fur Seals and one Australian Fur Seal, we home a total population of 15 seals. Little Blue Penguins are very popular residents, and this year for the first time in the park’s 40-year existence, we successfully raised three penguin chicks to adulthood, bringing the total population up to 17 birds.
Other residents include a selection of marine fish and a couple of Cockatoos. (On a side note: the pelicans, kangaroos and emu now reside at Billabong Koala Park in Port Macquarie, as we needed to make room for more seal enclosures to house the growing population!)
> This month marks the park’s 40th birthday. How has it grown and evolved in that time?
From very humble beginnings with less than five staff and 7,691 guests per annum, to over 50 staff, greeting now more than 90,000 guests, we have come a long way. With the increased numbers of guests and the animals now nearing capacity, we will need to expand and grow even bigger and better in the near future.
For some time now we have been in a process of planning for the future. We are exploring the possibilities of building larger enclosures for the seals, another large pool for the dolphins, which will be purpose built to conduct animal interactions, and a new entrance that will feature a café, function rooms, offices, gift shop, and a stunning aquarium. All of which is very exciting, and if feasible will certainly be a huge drawcard for the Coffs Coast!
> How will you be celebrating this significant anniversary?
December 4th we will be having a huge party to celebrate our ‘first forty years’, ‘Jet’s’ first birthday, and ‘Bucky’s’ 40th birthday! And because it’s our birthday, we will be giving ‘locals’ a birthday present too! In the month of their birthday we will offer free entry to a Marine Magic Presentation; some conditions will apply. We hope this offer may entice locals who have not been to the pool for a number of years or never at all, to find out why we have won so many awards, including the ‘Hall of Fame’ at this year’s business awards ‘The Sunny’s’.
As part of these celebrations, we are producing a beautiful commemorative calendar with stunning images of our animals. The calendar will be sold at the park and through selected outlets; 100% of the sales will go to CHART, enabling the charity to start building the required facilities to help sick and injured marine animals return to health and back to the wild.
> What can we look forward to over the next 40 years?
We hope that within the next five years to have completed stage one and two of the redevelopment and the planning stage three, which would see major infrastructure upgrades on our current land and the additional strip of land we have approval to purchase.
It is an exciting time in the park’s future; recently we have been working with experts from overseas to develop an Artificial Insemination (AI) protocol to ensure we have enough genetic material to conduct an ‘Australian Species Management Program’ or captive breeding program for the iconic bottlenose dolphin. We hope, in time, this program can be expanded to a global initiative, thus ending the senseless capturing of wild animals.
This December we will welcome a specialist ophthalmologist from North America to the park to conduct a workshop that will increase our staff’s knowledge of aquatic animal eyes. Typically, captive animals live longer than their wild counterparts and can experience chronic eye problems when they get older. The workshop will be attended by a number of Zoo Veterinarians from around the country, enabling better healthcare for many aquatic animals.
Finally, we will continue to engage and inspire people to conserve marine animals and their environment for future generations through interactive education and entertainment, by presenting our fabulous animals as ambassadors of their species, not examples of their kind!
> Thank you Paige.