September 17, 2008

New Stars Wait in the Wings


MARINELAND staff are training sea lions and seals in the hope that shows will go on after the death of their star attraction, Kelly the dolphin.

The long-running Napier tourist attraction has been closed to the public since Kelly's death last week, but staff are hoping the city council will reopen it.

The council will hold public consultations before deciding whether it can afford to run Marineland without its key attraction.

At the zoo yesterday, Rebekah Cuthbert and Nora Tenbrock were giving lessons to seal Iha, who is almost one.

Manager Gary Macdonald said the staff were enjoying the opportunity to spend extra time working with the animals, not having to worry about the public performances.

"The Californian sea lions and New Zealand fur seals have been part of the show for quite some time, along with the dolphins," Mr Macdonald said.

"We are very capable of putting on a show just with the sea lions and/or the seals.

"For the past 2 1/2 years, when we gave Kelly a break or she didn't want to perform, the shows went on with the sea lions and seals. In some ways the sea lions are more entertaining than the dolphins."

During shows, the smaller sea lions were taken for walks through the audience. "That has quite an impact," he said.

The zoo's little blue penguins were also very popular with the public.

One of Mr Macdonald's ideas for a revived Marineland is to incorporate Maori legends about the Hawke Bay sea.

"There is a taniwha out there, and Ngati Kahungunu believe they are related to the taniwha," he said. There was also the story of Pania of the Reef, commemorated in the statue further along Marine Pde.

Marineland has nearly 50 animals, including five sea lions, nine seals, 18 penguins and several gannets. Some could live for another 20 years.

It is unlikely that any could be released into the wild -- because they are injured or were born in captivity -- but Marineland's licences from the Conservation Department require it to continue to care for the animals.


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