Beluga Whales Spared From Capture: Hong Kong’s Ocean Park Just Said No

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In what may turn out to be a trendsetting decision, Hong Kong’s Ocean Park announced that they will abandon plans to procure belugas for their newly renovated Arctic exhibit.  Unable to find available captive belugas, Ocean Park had hoped to buy them from Russia where the restrictions on wild capture are lax – but the twin pressures of their own internal standards and negative public reaction caused them to reverse that decision.

(AsiaOne Press) The park had wanted to use the belugas, usually found around the Arctic circle, to raise public awareness of climate change through its new Polar Adventure attraction to open next year.
“After due consideration, we have decided not to pursue an acquisition from the wild even though the removal of some beluga whales has been shown to be sustainable,” Allan Zeman, Ocean Park’s chairman, said in a statement.”
“The park did the right thing. We certainly welcome the decision,” Samuel Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, told AFP.

Last February in an article in Channel News Asia Tom Mehrmann, chief executive of Ocean Park (formerly of Six Flags Marine World), had remarked that “We want to use these iconic animals to deliver a message of conservation and education to our guests...And we want to make sure that the pod is large enough for proper social dynamics to take place.”
That sounds remarkably similar to the rhetoric used by amusement parks everywhere to justify using marine mammals for their personal profit – but in this case the theme park behaved in compliance with their own mission and are educating the world on the value and cost of conservation. By choosing to not exploit a wild population of belugas for their own gain – which could cost them millions in lost revenue – this park sets the bar high for amusement parks and aquariums everywhere.
Of course, their decision was also driven by potential losses due to public sentiment, and for that the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society is to be applauded along with other supporting groups:

“China is helping drive demand for rare marine mammals for aquariums,” Dr Samuel Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, told AFP. “There are at least 17 mainland aquariums with over 60 beluga whales imported — so far. “People do not need to gawp at these beautiful creatures going round and round in a big fish tank to know they’re endangered. Robbing the world’s oceans of rare species just reduces their numbers further. It makes no sense.
“Russian waters have never been studied sufficiently to really understand beluga numbers. And they don’t breed well in captivity, so the chances of Ocean Park getting a pod from another aquarium are very, very slim.”

Please take a minute and drop a thank you note to the Ocean Park board of directors for their landmark decision:
Board members – [the contact link is not functioning at this time with U.S. phone numbers, but you can try here.]
As long as you are there, ask them to be conscientious about what they put on the menu at their upscale aquarium-side restaurant:

The aquarium was also in hot water recently with local conservationists after it brought dozens of rare Pacific blue fin tuna to the park, around ten of which died on the way from Japan.
It was also criticised for opening an exclusive restaurant with a seafood menu beside a huge glass tank full of 4,000 sea creatures from 400 species — some of them extremely rare.
“None of the fish in the tank are on the menu,” Mehrmann told AFP over the sound of clinking knives and forks of diners as the school of tuna swam behind his head.

"Do you have to eat that in front of me?" (Creative Commons Photo)
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