Beluga whales won't be coming
Ocean Park has abandoned its plan to import wild-caught beluga whales from Russia, following an outcry from animal welfare groups.
Chairman Allan Zeman and his fellow executives decided yesterday morning to drop the option of bringing in the near-threatened species for the park's new Polar Adventure attraction, which opens next year.
The U-turn comes even though Ocean Park has an option on six belugas caught in the wild last year and being kept in a holding facility in Russia and has begun work on a tank to accommodate the whales.
The theme park funded a sustainability study that concluded that up to 29 beluga whales a year could be taken from the Sea of Okhotsk over a five-year period without putting the population at risk.
But opposition from animal welfare groups in Hong Kong and overseas who argued Ocean Park should not import wild-caught belugas persisted. A protest by a coalition of groups was due to be staged outside Ocean Park on Sunday.
Zeman said last night: 'Everyone can rest assured no belugas from the wild will be imported into Ocean Park - not from Russia or from anywhere else.' He said the plan to import the belugas was only ever an option and had been dropped because of the 'different opinions' about capturing belugas in the wild.
'We decided that it just didn't make sense at this point as a responsible park,' he said. 'We do listen and evaluate everything, and at the end of the day we take what I consider will be the right decision.'
Zeman stressed: 'These animals were never intended for entertainment. They were intended for research and education and to tell this compelling story of the marine environment in the polar regions.'
The research work funded by Ocean Park in Russia should help conserve beluga whale populations in future, he said.
Samuel Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, which led the campaign against the import of the belugas, said: 'I am more than relieved. I think Allan Zeman has been genuine in listening to our concerns.'
Sandy Macalister, chief executive of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: 'Ocean Park has demonstrated that they have considered not only the concerns of the Hong Kong public but have put the welfare of the animals above all other concerns.'