Morning Story: Dolphins hunger for the wild



World champion freediver William Trubridge is trying to curb the way we eat our fish and chips.

At 107kg, I need no incentive.

A formerly lithe chap, I left home in 1990 at 80kg to embrace the heady culture of university rugby and the boozing that goes hand-in-glove with both.

However, Trubridge isn't concerned with my new-found girth. Instead, his weighty issue is with what lies within our favourite takeaway's golden batter.

Last week the new ambassador for the Maui's and Hector's dolphins claimed the species' numbers were dangerously low, due primarily to their fate in gill nets.

The same fishing method nets, among others, lemon fish, shark, red cod, gurnard - all deep-fried, salted and commonly wrapped in the very packaging you're reading.

His take-home message is a sobering one: our endemic dolphins will be the first species of marine cetacean [dolphins and whales] to face extinction due to human causes.

The first freediver to break the 100m barrier unassisted, the former Havelock North man also urged foreigners to avoid travelling to New Zealand until our government ceased "caving in" to the fishing industry.

All stirring stuff.

Meanwhile, back in Napier, only three days after Trubridge's plea, members of Friends of Marineland were high-fiving themselves after securing a $500,000 pledge to redevelop Marineland.

I rang the group's chairman, defence lawyer and would-be Napier mayor Cliff Church, to clarify.

As well as being a refuge and education centre, Marineland would look to house dolphins again, he said.

However, the animals would be born in captivity and not be forced to "perform". After speaking to the chairman I got the distinct impression he thought he and Trubridge were on the same page.

In fact I learned yesterday he had asked the ambassador to assist in getting the park off the ground.

While I hasten to add I have no doubt Mr Church is well intentioned, and a consummate gentleman to boot, it only confirmed the group's inability to see themselves objectively.

Here's a copy of Trubridge's pointed reply to Mr Church yesterday: "The only effort made to put Hector's dolphins in captivity was by Marineland itself, and of the four that were caught by "tail-grab" in 1970, three were dead within nine weeks ... if you care about cetaceans more than fiscal statements then you will leave all dolphins where they are in the wild ... even if Maui's dolphins survived captivity and managed to breed, their offspring would be even weaker and would just become shark food or by-catch if they were reintroduced".

A very different page, Mr Church.

In fact it's a remarkable clash of ideals. One party claims Marineland could be a tourism boon - the other's urging prospective tourists to boycott the country due to our mammalian sins.

Friends of Marineland hopes these rare dolphins will see Marine Parade as a nice place to bring up kids, and then, simply do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.

Again, this is the type of anachronistic, Dr Dolittle drivel we're seeing from this group.

"It would be unique - there'd be nowhere else in the country with this sort of facility," Mr Church argued.

Damn straight.

But there's a good reason it's nowhere else Mr Church - it's shunned.

The enthusiasm of subscribers must be based only on ignorance of the highest order, or Kelly and Shona nostalgia.

Either way, the rest of the community stood back aghast at the hoots and fist-pumping following last week's pledge.

Those who, like me as a kid, took delight in Kelly and Shona's performing, are yesterday's tourists.

Visitors who grace our country today are motivated by anything but the notion of captive flippers. Whether you agree with Trubridge's cause celebre or not, this group's proposal is anathema to modern tourism. In this country at least.

For the sake of perspective, let's not forget there's a rather large fish tank in the form of the New Zealand National Aquarium, just a few hundred metres south of Marineland. Unfortunately for the resident sharks, they don't boast a dolphin's permanent smile.

I mention this because much of the anti-Marineland theory is based on anthropomorphic sentiment. That is, we're inclined to humanise dolphins a tad.

But while we should acknowledge that, the one trait I'm satisfied these mammals unequivocally share with us is a hunger for the wild.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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