Marineland manager quits over false seal reports

RESIGNED: Gary Macdonald, Marineland manager for 32 years, will leave after making "a serious error of judgment".
RESIGNED: Gary Macdonald, Marineland manager for 32 years, will leave after making "a serious error of judgment".

Marineland's manager for the past 32 years has resigned after admitting he filed false reports about three seals in the Napier marine zoo.

"It's the right thing to do," Gary Macdonald, 60, said yesterday as he looked back over the job that has occupied more than half his life.

He wanted to ensure that Marineland – one of Hawke's Bay's main tourist attractions since 1965 – and Napier City Council were not blamed for the actions of one person who had made a "serious error in judgment".

The young fur seals were brought into Marineland – one each in 1996, 2006 and 2007 – after being found in at-risk situations in the wild, but Mr Macdonald told the Conservation Department they had been bred in captivity. "They are still here and they are well although the oldest is now blind, just because of ageing," he said.

His misreporting broke the terms of Marineland's permit from DOC. Mr Macdonald refused to say why he had sent the incorrect reports.

DOC has said it is unlikely to prosecute over the affair.

The fur seals were his favourite species of the animals at the zoo, Mr Macdonald said, although his favourite individuals had been three dolphins, Shona, Katy and Kelly. He was also very fond of the little blue penguins.

"I've really enjoyed my time here," he said. "I met my wife, Sue, here; she worked here. It's about the animals and as you develop with the people you work with, you become a family, with strong shared interests."

One regret was that he had to give up training the animals after he became manager, because the administration took up too much time.

Marineland had become a little run-down as the council became reluctant to spend money on it, unsure if it would still be viable financially after the deaths of its last dolphins. It has been closed to the public since April but the council is considering proposals to revamp it.

"My ongoing frustration was that everything I tried to achieve was put off because we didn't know what was going to happen to Marineland," he said.

"I appreciate that they were very hard decisions but it has been particularly hard working here in that environment."

Mr Macdonald supports proposals for a major revamp put forward by Wellington company 3D Creative. Costed at $8 million, the plans include underwater viewing windows, natural landscaping, educational sections and a restaurant on top of the grandstand.

His work at Marineland actually began 37 years ago, when he was offered a job as a trainer because the manager was friendly with his father through rugby – Mr Macdonald's other big passion in life.

Concussion suffered in a schoolboy match ended his playing career but he has been a coach – especially with his son Alex's teams – and a leading administrator.

He has been president of the Napier Old Boys Marist Club since 2000, and was made a life member in 2004. He organises club rugby and works with other volunteers for the Magpies.

Mr Macdonald leaves Marineland next Friday and is unsure what he will be doing after that.

"I'll be taking a break, and the house needs painting."

The Dominion Post