Getting back to nature: Coffs Coast Wildlife Centre

As the gateway to the iconic Solitary Islands Marine Park, the Coffs Coast is home to all manner of sea creatures big and small.

Getting out into the deep is one way to experience our amazing local reef. But for those without their sea legs, the Coffs Coast Wildlife Sanctuary is the best place to get up close and personal with dolphins, turtles, penguins, sea lions and even the odd peacock. In fact, there are currently 40 marine and terrestrial animals living at the park.


Coffs Coast Wildlife Centre

Once known as the Pet Porpoise Pool, the local sanctuary has pivoted its way into the 21st Century with a splash. Now more of an educational wildlife reserve than a tourist trap, the centre has been operating under new management - and a whole new name - since late 2023.

The tide is turning for the reimagined refuge and the future looks bright for its residents.

“The whole organisation has changed and we now run it as a charity. We wanted to do what was right and allow this sanctuary to continue for generations. Unfortunately, we don’t get government funding but rely on visitors, sponsorship and adoption programs to keep us going,” said Coffs Coast Wildlife Sanctuary’s manager Tiga Cross.

Coffs Coast Wildlife Centre

In the 1970s, when the famed Pet Porpoise Pool (later Dolphin Marine Magic) was put on the tourist map, it was known for dolphins jumping through hoops and sea lions kissing visitors on the cheek. Now there is a more mature approach to caring for the original dolphins’ descendants.

Jet, Zippy and Bella were born at the sanctuary; offspring of the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins rescued decades ago. Since the breeding of dolphins ceased in 2018, the trio are here to stay for the remainder of their natural lives but will be the last of their kind in captivity in NSW.

Coffs Coast Wildlife Centre

“A common question is ‘Why are the dolphins still here? Why can’t they be released?’ We talk about that and why we play with the dolphins; because that's important for their welfare. We’ll talk about the different fish they eat and get the kids to throw them in. Kids love getting fishy and gross,” Tiga explained.

Tiga and her team are passionate about education - not just tourism - and are keen to share their behind-the-scenes achievements. In the first six months under its new management, Coffs Coast Wildlife Sanctuary and a community of volunteers rescued over 100 sick and injured sea turtles and released more than 50 back into the ocean.

“This has been and will continue to be a journey. We’ve done a lot in the time we’ve been here - but there’s so much more we want to do,” Tiga added.

The Sanctuary is currently developing plans to build a specialised marine and native wildlife triage hospital in Coffs Harbour.

Along with all the turtles saved, the sanctuary has saved hundreds of sick and injured sea birds such as pelicans and shearwaters (known locally as mutton birds). The centre also houses a flock of 12 little blue penguins, the oldest of which were rescued from local beaches with injuries too severe to be released back into the wild.

Coffs Coast Wildlife Centre

Two New Zealand fur seals have been rescued and released thanks to the sanctuary’s efforts and with nine endangered Australian sea lions in-house, the sanctuary is also home to the most successful species conservation program worldwide.

In February 2024, the Coffs Coast Wildlife Sanctuary welcomed a baby boy named Garlambirla (the Gumbaynggirr name for Coffs Harbour, but affectionately known as Gary) - the 20th seal born as part of the program.

“The birth of this adorable seal pup fills us with immense joy and reaffirms our dedication to the conservation of Australian sea lions. Each birth is a testament to the success of our breeding program and a beacon of hope for the future of this endangered species,” said Tiga.


Distance from Coffs Harbour CBD: 3.6kms

Distance from the airport: 5.2kms