They have been mates for 17 years but the time is near for Orion the californian sea lion and Napier Marineland supervisor Regan Beckett to bid each other farewell.
Orion and seven other seals and sea lions at the closed and aged facility will go into quarantine today before being shipped to new homes in Australia.
Opened in 1965, Marineland officially closed in 2009 but has remained home to a handful of animals while the Napier City Council considered their future.
Mr Beckett became a volunteer at Marineland in 1984, when he was 12 and the centre was still in its heyday - when it had four resident dolphins and its large grandstand was regularly packed.
Mr Beckett has worked there fulltime since 1987.
From today he and his four fellow workers have 120 days left with the animals, which must remain in quarantine in a pool under special conditions. Only the staff and vets will be able to see them before they are shipped away.
Mr Beckett is not looking forward to the day they leave. "It's going to be pretty sad. I've seen all these animals arrive and I'll see them all leave.
"They're like family. Anyone who has had a dog a long time will know how sad it is.
"I think the whole of Napier should be grateful to them. They brought a lot of people to the Bay."
He might make a trip to Australia to visit the animals in a few years' time, he said. "It's not goodbye, it's farewell. We'll see them again."
Orion and fellow californian sea lion Dakota will be going to Sea World on the Gold Coast. The others will be split between Melbourne Zoo, Sydney's Taronga Zoo and Dolphin Marine Magic at Coffs Harbour.
Friends of Marineland spokeswoman Emily Otto said the group remained opposed to the facility's closure, and had not given up the fight to retain it as a marine education and rescue centre
Hans Kriek, executive director of animal rights group Safe, said: "The world has moved on from these sorts of parks" and he hoped the animals were well cared for at their new homes."
Given that the council was probably not going to euthanise the animals, because of possible the public outcry, rehoming them was the best solution, he said.
Last year the council announced a proposal to convert Marineland into a skatepark as part of an upgrade of Napier's Marine Parade.
If adopted, the upgrade, which would keep Marineland's grandstand, would be completed by 2015.
Marineland of New Zealand was opened by the Napier City Council in January 1965, two days after the capture of its first common dolphin, Daphne. By later that year, it had six dolphins.
The late 1960s and 70s were Marineland's boom years. It acquired sea lions, a leopard seal, fur seals, otters, and bottlenose dolphins. Later it would acquire birds and penguins.
The Queen visited in 1970, the year it received its one millionth visitor. In 1980 it clocked up three million visits and a new grandstand was built.
In 1983 a nationwide review of fishery permits led to the cancellation of Marineland's dolphin catching permit.
In 1991 the conservation minister turned down an application to catch six dolphins and a leopard seal. A year later Marineland began its "swim with the dolphins" programme.
In 2006 Shona the dolphin died of old age, at 36. Two years later the last remaining dolphin, Kelly, died aged 37, and the council started looking at Marineland's viability.
In April 2009 it closed to the public while the council decided its fate. Friends of Marineland was formed with a goal of retaining it.
In December 2010 the council decided Marineland would remain closed. Friends of Marineland funded a judicial review, which in 2012 upheld the council's decision
Last year the council announced it would convert Marineland into a skatepark as part of an upgrade of Marine Parade.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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