The seven sea mammals arrived by flight from the Ukraine last week, confirmed Supreecha Suthamanondh, General Manager of Phuket Aqua Project Co Ltd.
“The animals are in a quarantine period with their handlers so they can adjust to their new environment,” he said.
“Right now our top priority is for our specialists to take good care of them and make sure they feel comfortable in their new surroundings as soon as possible.”
Mr Supreecha confirmed that the Nemo facility had been issued permits to import the animals and to operate as a public zoo.
“This aquarium is not only to serve as a tourist attraction for Thais and foreigners, but also as a learning centre and a research facility” he said.
“Getting this through has not been easy. There are many processes to complete and conditions to adhere to. The aquarium building needed many adjustments, which took about seven months to complete and taking the total cost of the project to about B100 million.
“I did not want to go public before because not everything was finished, but all processes are complete and have been approved by Fisheries Department.
“We will have our soft opening soon. We are waiting for Department of Fisheries to inspect to make sure they are healthy,” Mr Supreecha added.
Pisanut Ana-Nan, Director of the Department of Fisheries Phuket office, confirmed that his office was informed by the Phuket from Phuket Provincial Aquatic Animal Inspection Office that dolphins and seals had arrived.
“Their officers confirmed that the dolphins and seals were delivered in correct accordance with the CITES* agreement, and they are now processing the official document to hand the case to the Department of Fisheries,” he said.
“After we receive the official request from them, we will inspect the animals to make sure they are healthy and disease-free. This should be completed within the coming week,” Mr Pisanut added.
Mr Supreecha recognised the huge public controversy surrounding the opening of the Nemo marine park.
“I understand the concern from conservationists, but all of these animals were born in captivity. They are not from the wild and they need training and care,” Mr Supreecha told The Phuket News.
“Our dolphin specialists will take very good care of them,” he said.
Vociferous online campaigns against the facility have produced copies of documents showing that the company that Phuket Aqua Co Ltd sourced the dolphins from had in turn sourced at least some dolphins from Japan, renowned for the infamous annual dolphin slaughter at the Taiji Cove.
News that the dolphins and seals were in transit to Phuket was broken by the Russian-language newspaper The Dumskaya on October 6, when the newspaper, published in Odessa, Ukraine, reported that a special IL-62M aircraft with several dolphins on board left Odessa heading for “some Asian Country”.
The dolphins were transferred from a “Nemo” dolphinarium owned and operated by Nerum LCC, which owns and operates 30 dolphinariums in Ukraine and abroad under the Nemo marine-park franchise, including the facility in Phuket.
Nerum co-owner Andrey Kislovskiy confirmed to reporters that the dolphins were being transferred to Phuket, The Dumskaya reported.
“According to his words, there are baby Black Sea and Pacific dolphins born in captivity. They are heading to Phuket (the Kingdom of Thailand) where Nerum LCC has just finished construction of a dolphinarium,” said the report. (See story here.)
“The dolphinarium will start operations as soon as the animals arrives,” Mr Kislovskiy is quoted as saying.
He did not disclose how many dolphins were being transferred to Phuket, or how many dolphins his company owns in total, citing commercial confidentiality.
The Dumskaya report included copies of documents that show that the dolphins that have arrived in Phuket could have been bought in Japan.
The newspaper also present photocopies of Japanese export certificates issued to Dolphin Base Corporation based in Taiji-cho. The certificates date back to 2010 and 2013, and show Nerum LCC as the importer in both papers.
* CITES: the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
– Additional reporting by Anton Makhov