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Wild dolphin tours planned for Singapore waters

SINGAPORE — More people in Singapore could encounter wild dolphins, if an animal protection group’s plans to offer the first-ever dolphin-watching tours here bear fruit.

SINGAPORE — More people in Singapore could encounter wild dolphins, if an animal protection group’s plans to offer the first-ever dolphin-watching tours here bear fruit.

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) is exploring the idea as a way to raise awareness on issues surrounding keeping dolphins in captivity.

“We are confident that if people learn about and see dolphins living freely in the wild, they will never want to see them in captivity,” said ACRES chief executive Louis Ng, who will conduct the feasibility study with two of the advocacy group’s researchers.

ACRES also announced yesterday that its researchers would be studying the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin in the southern waters of Singapore over the next two years. The researchers, Ms Naomi Clark and Ms Isabelle Tan, have a Masters in Marine Biology and a degree in Zoology and Conservation Biology, respectively. They will be gathering data on population numbers, distribution, home range and behaviours and seek to understand the potential threats faced by the dolphins, ACRES said.

The studies are a development of its Save the World’s Saddest Dolphins campaign that began in 2011, in response to integrated resort Resorts World Sentosa’s capture of 27 wild bottlenose dolphins from the Solomon Islands for its Marine Life Park. Mr Ng said the latest announcement adds a positive element to the campaign, as well as the prospect of alternatives.

“Ultimately people do want to see dolphins ... What we’re trying to do is focus on finding alternatives (to) seeing a dolphin in captivity,” he said.

The group launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaign yesterday to raise US$100,000 for the studies.

Wild dolphins have been regularly spotted off Singapore, most frequently between St John’s and Lazarus islands, with videos and photos generating excitement on social media.

But Dr Elizabeth Taylor, head of the Marine Mammal Research Laboratory at the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI), felt wild-dolphin watching tours were unfeasible here, due to difficulties in predicting when or where they would be seen. “In my opinion and experience, there’s no chance of making a dolphin-watching programme here,” said Dr Taylor, although she finds ACRES’ efforts admirable. A “95 per cent or 90 per cent” chance of dolphin sightings is required to conduct such tours — otherwise participants could want to ask for refunds — and that is not the case here, she said.

At least 50 sightings were reported to the TMSI in 2012 and at least 169 dolphins were spotted between 2008 and 2011. The laboratory has designed smart underwater listening and recording devices to track the dolphins, but has not been able to secure funding to use them, said Dr Taylor.

ACRES will look at ventures in other countries, such as Hong Kong’s Dolphinwatch ecological tours, in its feasibility study and is open to collaborations, said Mr Ng.

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