Dolphins at Ocean Park 'should be set free'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2012, 12:00am


Ocean Park should take a lead in ending the practice of keeping dolphins in theme parks, a renowned conservationist said yesterday.

At a forum attended by Allan Zeman, the attraction's boss, Richard O'Barry said most dolphins captured in the wild were imported into China.

This meant the park could play a key role in stopping the trade.

O'Barry, who featured in the Oscar-winning documentary film The Cove about brutal dolphin hunts in Japan, said the education value of keeping dolphins in theme parks was questionable and that Ocean Park should phase out the practice.

O'Barry, who first worked with dolphins while a trainer on the 1960s television series Flipper, invited Zeman to see for himself the dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan, in which more than 1,000 dolphins and whales are captured for sale to theme parks or for human consumption each year.

'Ocean Park is not [importing dolphins from the wild], but their colleagues [in the theme park industry] are ... they are connected,' O'Barry said after the forum, organised by the international student group Aisec at Baptist University.

He told Zeman that he should 'go to Taiji, learn more about the issue and send the message to the rest of the industry'.

Zeman said Ocean Park had abandoned the practice of importing dolphins captured in the wild.

He said 70 per cent of the dolphins taking part in the park's shows were bred in captivity, while the others were imported before his time or borrowed from an aquarium in South Africa.

'The dolphin show before my time was purely about entertainment,' Zeman said. He said tricks like getting dolphins to jump through hoops had been dropped, while visitors now had a chance to learn about marine conservation.

'What I see now is a very simple tank show. What's really important is the message,' he said.

O'Barry said he had never visited Ocean Park and never would.

He said: 'I get a hangover from a dolphin show. I can actually feel the dolphins' depression.'

But he will take a boat trip today to see the city's wild dolphins with the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society. The city's waters are home to a small population of endangered Chinese white dolphins.

O'Barry helped make Flipper, the story of a young boy and his friendship with his pet dolphin, an international television hit.

But he was converted to the cause of freeing the creatures when one of the dolphins that played Flipper, Kathy, died in his arms.

O'Barry believes the dolphin effectively committed suicide by closing her blowhole voluntarily.

Ocean Park is not the only institution in the city facing criticism over its treatment of dolphins.

Hong Kong Airlines faced controversy last month after pictures emerged of five live dolphins being flown from Osaka in Japan to the Vietnamese capital Hanoi in tanks on one of its aircraft.

The airline said it was 'very unlikely' to fly dolphins again.