Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Underwater World closure plan draws flak from animal lovers

SINGAPORE — Announcing it will be closing its doors to the public for good after 25 years of service later this month, Underwater World Singapore (UWS) said it has rehomed its pink dolphins, fur seals and otters in an aquarium in China, much to the dismay of local wildlife conservation groups.

SINGAPORE — Announcing it will be closing its doors to the public for good after 25 years of service later this month, Underwater World Singapore (UWS) said it has rehomed its pink dolphins, fur seals and otters in an aquarium in China, much to the dismay of local wildlife conservation groups.

In a press release issued on Monday (June 6), UWS said its lease at Sentosa expires in less than two years, but decided to close operations earlier — on June 26 — to ensure animals “have a good home to relocate to”.

“After nearly a year reviewing suitable facilities, we found a home for our pink dolphins, fur seals and otters. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, China — with one of the finest facilities in the world and a strong staff with expertise in marine mammal veterinary and husbandry care, as well as an active breeding and conservation programme — was selected as the best choice,” said UWS.

 

The transfer of the animals was approved by the authorities in both countries, it added. The park, a subsidiary of Haw Par Corporation, is still looking for suitable homes for its remaining animals. It did not say how many animals will be affected in total.

Instead of subjecting the animals to the stress of relocating to another country, wildlife conservation groups here said UWS, which has been criticised in the past for keeping pink dolphins in captivity, should have tried to rehabilitate the animals for release back into wild.

If that was not possible, transferring them to local facilities would have been the preferred option, especially at a time where Singapore already has plans to expand its wildlife attractions.

Animal Concerns Research & Education Society’s (Acres) chief executive Louis Ng was concerned about the stress the animals were subjected to during the transfer. He also hoped that Singapore’s host of other wildlife attractions such as Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore Zoo and River Safari would be able to take in the remaining animals at UWS. “We prefer transfers (rather) than (animals) captured from the wild, so it entirely makes sense to transfer existing collections to other facilities here,” he added.

Ms Ria Tan, who runs the blog Wild Shores of Singapore, questioned the animals’ state of health after the transfer, echoing other questions raised by wildlife groups on the welfare of the animals in their new environment, the type of care they would be provided and if they would be subjected to performing in shows.

Sea Shepherd’s Singapore coordinator James Chua said instead of moving the animals from one captivity setting to another, they should have been rehabilitated for release or moved to a sanctuary, as there is no guarantee the animals would be able to adapt to their new environment and survive.

He also said if UWS really wanted to help the dolphins, it could have consulted groups first on how to move forward with similar “rehab and release” programmes. “But, obviously, it’s more of a profit-making decision,” he added.

Chimelong has been touted as one of the largest aquariums in China and in the world, with performing Beluga whales, seals and dolphins, among others, and media reports have raised red flags over the welfare of the animals.

A Washington Post article in February, citing a report by the China Cetacean Alliance, said Chimelong houses 491 cetaceans, including 279 bottlenose dolphins, 114 belugas and nine orcas, many of which were captured from the wild using methods that are “known to cause stress and fear”.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, UWS said a transportation plan was co-developed by animal experts from the two aquariums for the dolphins, fur seals and otters, who were moved on Sunday.

Adding that the transfer was “smooth”, UWS said animals were accompanied by a specialist team from Chimelong throughout the journey, and have settled down into their new homes.

The Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said its officers were present during the moving process to safeguard the welfare of the animals. It also ensured UWS worked with Chimelong to come up with a process to minimise risk and stress to the dolphins during the process. For instance, prior to the move, trainers and a veterinarian from Chimelong spent time at UWS to familiarise themselves with the dolphins.

Asked why the transfer of the animals was not announced beforehand, UWS said a quarantine period was required by the Singapore authorities, and no announcement was made to allow the dolphins “a quiet isolation period”.

It did not address queries on concerns over Chimelong’s track record. But it said scientific data about the UWS dolphins was transferred to Chimelong, and it hoped UWS’ success in breeding and research will be continued to contribute to conservation efforts.

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa