Ocean Park's animal wish list challenged

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2007, 12:00am

Marine conservationists have condemned Ocean Park's plan to obtain more species of animals for its aquarium and marine shows.

Ocean Park is undergoing a HK$5.55 billion redevelopment which includes a proposal to introduce 33 more species.

But marine conservationists have described the practice of capturing and displaying marine wildlife for educational or conservation purposes as unnatural and without any educational benefits.

Bill Ballantine, a renowned marine scientist who visited Hong Kong recently, said: 'When I was a child, I was taken to the zoo to look at the lions. They walked up and down in the concrete cage. And that was considered educational ... yet, we don't do that anymore ... except for sharks and king fish.

'Even if [the captive cetaceans] don't mind that they are suffering, what do children learn from that?

'It is not nature and most of it is lies. Will you teach children a lot of lies?' he asked.

Janet Walker of Hong Kong Dolphinwatch pointed out that since Ocean Park opened in 1977, it had lost 100 whales, dolphins and porpoises to melioidosis, a disease involving bacterial infection in the blood and brain. The park's last remaining whale, Barney, died of the disease in 1999.

The redevelopment work began in November and is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

Proposals on the project submitted in 2005 included a plan to obtain 33 species of animals, including killer whales, polar bears and performing walruses.

A park spokeswoman said last week no specific plans relating to obtaining animals had been made 'up to now'.

Ocean Park insists it adheres to 'very strict and stringent international treaties and protocols that govern how animals are collected'.

It increases its population of creatures through breeding programmes at its own facilities, suppliers accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, donations from overseas zoos and collections of marine invertebrates from the wild, the park spokeswoman said.

She said the animals under its care were well-cared for by professional veterinary and zoological teams.

'We strongly feel we can provide our animals with a habitat that meets their lifestyle needs,' she said.

'In the wild, dolphins face a number of threats from pollution, fishing and lack of food. Studies now show that the longevity of dolphins in the wild and those that are under human care at zoological facilities are nearly the same.

'The average life expectancy of dolphins at Ocean Park is now similar to that in the wild.'

But Ms Walker argued the only thing one could learn from a captive whale or dolphin was that 'it will perform for food'.

She said people often suggested that some species of whales and dolphins were better off in captivity, where it would be cleaner and food would be guaranteed.

'But this is like telling humans they can spend their life in a micro-palace, but they can never leave, their room mates will be chosen for them, as will the time and content of their meals, assuming they perform as needed,' she said.

Rebecca Ngan Yee-ling, spokeswoman for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: 'Nature is full of mysteries, such as the complexity of the food chain, and we are not able to copy it in a tank'.