Graduates get in the swim

OCEAN Park boasts what must be the most exclusive university in Hongkong.

Graduates have to keep their grey noses to the grindstone if they expect to pass in subjects like rubber-ring catching.

Eventually, they will graduate from the Dolphin University, situated at one end of Kids' World.

The university is part of the continuous breeding and training programme conducted at Ocean Park.

It will give the public the opportunity to look at, but not touch or feed, these gentle animals.

The complex comprises a training area with five pools: a large one in the middle, with two smaller pools either side, and a medical pool where temperatures are taken and vaccinations administered.

The programme will involve trainers explaining dolphin behaviour to visitors and talking about conservation, feeding and breeding habits.

''However, we will not let the children touch the animals,'' said Darrell Metzger, executive director of Ocean Park.

''Although this is popular in other parts of the world, such as the United States and Australia, in Hongkong it is a different matter.

''We do not want the dolphins to eat fish which has been touched by a lot of people.

''In the heat and humidity of Hongkong, dolphins are susceptible to diseases and we do not want to take the chance of them catching something from grubby hands.'' But Mr Metzger is confident this will not interfere with the pleasure children will gain from being up close to these animals.

''We see it as an educational venture as well as a form of entertainment,'' he said.

Ocean Park's breeding programme started about a year ago.

At the research laboratory - or hospital - temperatures are taken and ultrasound equipment used to determine the best time to pair dolphins for breeding.

''Eventually, all the dolphins we use in shows will have been bred in our own pools,'' said Mr Metzger.

''We do not want to be capturing dolphins from the wild.'' An important part of training phins involves teaching dolphins to jump out of the medical pool to receive vaccinations.

''If we did not teach them to do this on command, we would need people in the water who would need to catch the dolphins and hold them down for their injection,'' said Mr Metzger.

''As it is, we just give the command, the dolphins come up, have their shots and are straight back in the pool.'' Another important role for the Dolphin University will be educating children into the ways of dolphins.

Meanwhile, another favourite show with the children - the live animals act - will be put on hold for a month while child artists perform at the theatre.

The seals, goat, dog and monkey, which have been entertaining children, will be rested before returning to the stage next month.