Grand Aquarium at Ocean Park to open soon Endangered species acquired, but death toll still on the riseLocal and international groups oppose the Polar Exhibit and further animal acquisitions

The Grand Aquarium atOceanPark, opening this Thursday, is one of the crucial tourist attractions since the redevelopment of the park.OceanParkhas acquired endangered species from the wild to advertise the park, infringing their own animal acquisition policy. In order to accelerate the grand opening of their new exhibit just before the Lunar New Year holiday, the Park has ignored the well-being of the acquired animals, leading to the deaths of some precious bluefin tuna and hammerhead sharks.OceanParkhas long reported only favourable news and issues to the public, without revealing any death figures of animals in their facility and how they infringe their own animal acquisition policy, showing that their operation is poorly transparent.

Acquisition policy

OceanParkhas stated in their own animal acquisition policy that “acquisition of animals from the wild is always a last alternative and pursued only if there is independently verifiable scientific evidence that the wild population is sustainable and that the removal of a limited number of animals is non-detrimental to the population’s survival.” However, after several enquiries, the World Wide Fund for NatureHong Kongfound just last week that the Park has not followed their own Animal Acquisition Policy when acquiring the threatened bluefin tuna. This proves that the Park will abandon their own corporate policy whenever they choose. Moreover, acquisition of bluefin tuna from the wild has not been proven sustainable, and not only depletes the wild population further but also misleads the public to believe capturing wild endangered animals is a practice of conservation and education. This act is certainly counter to its social responsibility to educate the public in an appropriate manner.

Welfare issues

OceanParkleads the public to believe that they deeply care about their acquired animals. However, the Park has always concealed the death toll figures of the animals at their facility deliberately from the public and media. According to a member of staff atOceanPark, the Park placed the bluefin tuna inside their new pool while the pool facility was not properly prepared, in order to meet the grand opening of the Grand Aquarium just in time for the Lunar New Year holiday. Because the water filtration system and water quality were not set properly at the time, 10 of the 80 bluefin tuna died. And only a dozen out of 40 hammerhead sharks initially acquired have survived, due to overcrowded living conditions in their quarantine pool when first introduced into the park. How animals are kept atOceanParkis certainly opposed to how they promote themselves as conserving wild animals and educating the public. This reveals that their operations and management have been poorly transparent so the public have no way to evaluate if the Park should import certain species, or if their animal husbandry techniques are up to standards needed to keep these species in captivity. 

Polar Exhibit

Besides the Grand Aquarium,OceanParkhas already announced that they will acquire more wild animals for their Polar Exhibit, which is scheduled to open in 2012. These species include beluga whales and walruses, species that are in danger in their polar habitats. Due to the low survival and reproductive rates of beluga whales in captivity, it is generally believed by scientists that the Park would need to capture beluga whales from the wild. To try to conform to their own animal acquisition policy,OceanParkfunded a survey on a wild beluga whale population in Russian waters more than two years ago, in the hope that it would prove that catching individual whales would not be detrimental to the sustainable survival of their wild population. However, the survey has been conducted under the table andOceanParkhas never revealed how they conducted the study. The park has also yet to disclose any findings or report on any impact assessments that the acquisition will have on the wild population. Also the park has not made any promise to disclose the full report for inspection by independent and authoritative scientists, making the integrity and reliability of the report in serious doubt.

It is even more obscure that the Park has already established the exhibit for beluga whales before there is any evidence supporting acquisition of wild beluga whales. According to a member of staff at the Park,OceanParkhas already reconstructed their dolphin training pool into a beluga quarantine pool, for their scheduled import, approximately this coming March or April. This has already raised grave concern from international conservation groups. Two of the most prominent cetacean conservation groups in the world – the Humane Society International and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society – have issued statements (Appendix 1) for this press conference, expressing their discontent and concern aboutOceanPark’s plan to acquire wild beluga whales. This shows thatOceanPark’s recent plan of animal acquisition has raised concerned not only locally but internationally too, further undermining the image ofOceanParkas well asHong Kong.

It is believed that the new Polar Exhibit will also contribute to local environmental problems. A large amount of energy would be consumed in order to maintain cold air and water temperatures for the polar animals in the new exhibit. AsHong Kongnow generates electricity mainly by burning coal, the huge amount of energy consumed would then emit carbon dioxide, contributing to global climate change. Claiming to be environmentally friendly and conservation-oriented,OceanParkhas not applied these principles during their operation. For instance,OceanParkclaimed that the Polar Exhibit would be used to raise public awareness about global warming and its impacts, but it is contradictory and ironic that the exhibit itself will further contribute to climate change.

Petition and Follow-up Actions

To address the abovementioned problems, Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society and Green Sense started a petition last month, with the statements (Appendix 2) cosigned by 17 local and international organizations, expressing grave concerns about the underlying problems at Ocean Park. We hope that the public andOceanParkvisitors will be aware of the long-existing problems behind the park’s so-called education and conservation work. The public should also think about the aims and policies ofOceanPark’s establishment, and the Park itself should fully realize its social responsibility when it comes to animal acquisition and environment conservation. Our joint-statement has also been supported by nearly a thousand people on Facebook. Some have also written down their discontent and appeals toOceanParkat an online petition site. 

Cosigning parties have already expressed their views and six important appeals toOceanPark. Legislator Ms Audrey Eu has already promised to follow up the issue by writing to the LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs, with the hope to increase transparency on the Park’s operations, and strengthen the surveillance onOceanParkfrom the outside.