RWS hires 36 trainers to give dolphins full attention

Trainers interacting with the dolphins at Resorts World Sentosa. The trainers are taught to look out for problem signs in the dolphins’ behaviour or body language. -- ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
Trainers interacting with the dolphins at Resorts World Sentosa. The trainers are taught to look out for problem signs in the dolphins’ behaviour or body language. -- ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
Dr Alfonso Lopez examining a dolphin with a trainer’s help. -- ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
Dr Alfonso Lopez examining a dolphin with a trainer’s help. -- ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

With 36 trainers hired, level of care seems to exceed that at other parks

Resorts World Sentosa's Marine Life Park has employed 36 trainers for its 24 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins ahead of the imminent opening of its Dolphin Island attraction.

This level of animal care appears to exceed that at several other dolphin attractions around the world.

Hong Kong's Ocean Park at one point had 40 trainers caring for 40 marine mammals, including 18 dolphins. In 2009, the Dubai Dolphinarium had two trainers for its four dolphins.

Currently, each of the dolphins in Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) has a primary trainer of its own, with the others assisting.

Speaking to reporters last Friday, the park's chief veterinarian Alfonso Lopez said that trainers, with their intimate knowledge of the dolphins, provide a crucial "first line of defence" in detecting anything amiss in mood or health.

"The bond between dolphins and trainers is very important. It's the key to preventing and managing problems."

Each morning, the dolphins are given full- body visual checks by trainers, who are taught to look out for problem signs in their behaviour or body language.

For instance, a dolphin with gastric flu might curl its pectoral fins closer to its body.

Trainers who sense that something is wrong will inform the park's four full-time vets.

Experts say that the stress while in captivity can make dolphins more susceptible to disease. Some of these diseases, such as bacterial infections, cannot be detected with the naked eye.

Three of the original 27 dolphins caught from the Solomon Islands in 2008 and 2009 died from such infections - two in October 2010 while being held in Langkawi, and one last November on the way from the Philippines to Singapore.

To guard against stress, trainers keep dolphins mentally stimulated with training routines, and by letting them roam the 11 inter-connecting lagoons.

Vets have also instituted a health-check system. Respiratory and faecal samples are taken weekly, and tested in an on-site laboratory. Blood samples are also taken when necessary to measure levels of cortisol, which indicates stress levels.

Dolphin Island is understood to be opening soon, although the Marine Life Park declined to reveal its opening date.

This coming Saturday, Singapore-based animal rights group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) is launching a campaign in London to call for a boycott of Genting casinos. This is part of its efforts to pressure the company, which runs RWS, into releasing what Acres has labelled the "world's saddest dolphins".

As for the number of trainers at the park, Acres executive director Louis Ng said: "Working towards improving the welfare of the dolphins is a positive step.

"But we must remember that they should never have been captured in the first place."

davidee@sph.com.sg