Marineland Dolphins "Died Like Flies"

RACHEL PINDER of Hawke's Bay Today News

The widow of a former Marineland manager has broken the silence of almost three decades, claiming two dolphins - casualties of attempts to stock Marineland - are buried in her back garden.

Ada McIlroy, 68, of Mill Road, Clive, said her late husband, Pat - a manager of Marineland in the 1970s - had requested they be buried there.

"The Department of Conservation (DOC) haven't got a clue how many died," Mrs McIlroy said.

"I haven't said anything until now, as it was very hurtful at the time, and the truth has not yet come out."

The dolphins in her garden were just the tip of the iceberg, she said.

Pat McIlroy was manager at Marineland from 1972-1977 and died 22 years ago.

He was often involved with catching dolphins in Hawke Bay, because there was no law against it then.

"When my husband took over the manager's job, those dolphins were dying like flies," Mrs McIlroy said.

"Back then, they just used to go out in the bay and look for the right size and age. I remember one time, Pat went down to the Marlborough Sound and caught a bottlenose dolphin, which he called Josie, about 1976.

"Marineland started back in 1964 but I don't think DOC knew how many died over the years. I think the figure was around 80.

"They were just lucky when they caught Shona and Kelly because they were the right age and size and they just survived.

"I don't care what Harry Lawson does. The Government will not allow any more dolphins at Marineland, so it doesn't matter how many signatures he gets on his petition. I would never sign it," she said.

A report compiled by Ian Mills on the History of the Hawke's Bay Marineland and Aquarium Board, from 1964-1992, details the number of dolphin deaths over the years, either at Marineland or after their release.

"It is a factual and honest report over a period of 30 years. The figure bandied around of 80 dolphins which died at Marineland was never as bad as people made it out to be," Mr Mills said.

"Dolphins were not killed willy-nilly. I'd say the total number of dolphins which died would be around 30 or 40.

"It's very probable that some of the dolphins are buried on the late Pat McIlroy's property, as sometimes they had to be destroyed and buried somewhere," Mr Mills said.

Mr Harry Lawson organised a petition to replace Shona, Marineland's iconic dolphin, which died two months ago. So far, he has 4055 signatures.

Mr Lawson said it was pointless bringing up all the historic details of the numbers of dolphin deaths.

"My issue is not the morality of keeping dolphins in captivity, it's more about keeping this Hawke's Bay icon for years to come, rather than just destroying it overnight," he said.