Ocean Park chief Allan Zeman rejects claims its dolphins are overworked

Chief Allan Zeman says shows would not be run if mammals are stressed; they don't work like humans

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2012, 4:14am

Ocean Park has dismissed claims that its dolphins are being overworked and used as a tool to lure more visitors, adding that human work concepts are not applicable to the sea mammals.

Chairman Allan Zeman said that if trainers and park veterans thought the shows were too stressful for the animals, they would not be run.

Senior curator of marine mammals Wong Hoi-ming, said the dolphins were "playing, not working".

"Unlike human beings, dolphins don't have to go to work on time every day and chase deadlines," he said. "They are just singing and playing around."

They were commenting on a media report that exhausted dolphins were failing to respond to trainers' orders during shows.

The park said the number of presentations in the Ocean Theatre varied from three to six a day according to the number of visitors and seasonal requirements, but no dolphin performed in more than four.

The park's six-show schedule operating at present will last until August 27.

"We don't do these shows in order to make more money," Zeman said. "Basically we would never do anything to harm dolphins." Rebutting claims that the sea mammals are trained to perform "circus-like" tricks, Zeman said: "The dolphin is just doing what it normally does in its natural state.

"We never ask them to jump and catch a ball - things that they normally don't do."

But Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, said some behaviour was "unnatural" - such as tail-walking, jumping on to the platform and waving goodbye.

The park said in a statement that about 60 animal husbandry and veterinary staff took care of the marine mammals - including 29 dedicated to the dolphins alone.

"An increased number of presentations does not increase the individual dolphin's daily activities," it said. "The animals' daily activity budgets remain the same, and are closely monitored and managed to ensure their health."

But Hung said the measures were only able to monitor the physical fatigue of the dolphins, not their mental fatigue.

Seven dolphins take turns in the daily performances, which have been in operation for 36 years.

The park said that when a dolphin did not follow a trainer's cue, it could be distracted for multiple reasons, such as hormonal fluctuations during breeding seasons.

At yesterday's 12.30pm show, one of the dolphins failed to respond to its trainer's "hand-shaking" instruction.

"It's normal that dolphins don't [always] listen to our instructions," said senior marine mammal supervisor, Rosetta Lui Kai-yi, who has been training the dolphins for 26 years.

"For example, when female dolphins are on heat, the males will easily get distracted."