Is Bayworld bringing its captive dolphins back?

Reaction to a recent article in the Citizen highlights both the need for elected officers to understand the industry they’re expected to serve – and the need for journalists to research their pieces more thoroughly.


The headline – ‘PE’s dolphins to leap again at Bayworld’ – got immediate backlash when someone shared it on Facebook on Sunday evening (the article itself was published on 2 July), and stirred a hot debate, during which, of course, I was one of the hottest of the hotheads.

The next day, though – and having spoken to some of the players – I realised that the good news is that the bad news probably isn’t going to happen.

Bayworld is a museum and dolphinarium on Port Elizabeth’s beachfront that once attracted people by the thousand, but that more recently has become something of an embarrassment.

Although some seem to blame its decline on the fact that its last two surviving performing dolphins were ‘loaned’ to some water-borne-zoo/circus somewhere in the Far East (as you can tell, I have huge ethical issues with the idea of wild animals performing for our entertainment), the truth is probably much more complex.

I visited Bayworld more than once when I was a tour guide back in the mid-80s, and even then the place seemed old, tired, and sad.

So you’d think that The Citizen’s report (sub-heading: “Mayor Danny Jordaan says a R300m cash injection will help to boost tourism again”) would be good news indeed.

Only it isn’t.

According to Luvuyo Bangazi, marketing and communications manager at  the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), the money hasn’t been set aside or budgeted for. Rather, R300 million is “an estimation of what we believe would be required to revamp and develop the property.”


In fact, though, the project hasn’t even come near the budget stage yet: as things stand, the management of the property has been transferred from the Eastern Cape Government to the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality and, as Luvuyo said, “the city still has to go through a mandate process.

“That means that there has to be a council resolution that officially appoints the MBDA as the developer.

“Once that is done, we will formally start the process and notify the public and all interested stakeholders. But it would be premature to do that before we even have a letter of appointment.”

Once the Agency does become involved, though, it will initiate a public participation process.

“All our projects go through an intensive public participation process – we often call it the visioning process – so that we know who has an interest in the development.

“We often organise round-table discussions, public platforms, public meetings – we’ve done this with all our developments, which is why they have such great public approval.”

Responsible tourism

And the performing dolphins? Might never happen. Titus Chuene, the marketing manager at Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, said that his organisation would like to see Bayworld redeveloped as a multi-purpose venue.

“We would like to work with the (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan) University and its marine department, and we would like to have some kind of indoor entertainment facility, but I cannot say for a fact how it’s going to be” – that would depend on the public participation process because, “at the end of the day it is the public’s property.”

He said, though, that the facility would probably be used in the city’s campaign to position itself as the bottlenose capital of the world. (From the media release:‘“Establishing the city as the Bottlenose Capital of the World can branch out into a number of tourism and economic opportunities in line with the aims of the blue economy,” said Mandlakazi Skefile, Chief Executive Officer of Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism.’)

As far as performing dolphins are concerned, though, Titus said that he wasn’t aware of any plans to bring them back.

“Trends are changing, and we need to keep abreast of what is happening internationally, and also of what is right for the animals.”


Given the actual story, we can thus agree that, at this stage at least, the project accords with the principles of responsible tourism (creating better places to live in, and better places to visit), and good destination management (the process of finding and unlocking opportunities that exist in a destination)?

Now if we could just get the elected classes to understand…

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Martin Hatchuel
Chartered Public Relations Professional

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