(Hong Kong – 29 August 2011) Ocean Park has been seeking beluga whales to include as part of its upcoming Polar Adventure zone to help raise public awareness for the need to mitigate global climate change. After due consideration, the Park has decided to decline the option of bringing in belugas from the wild.
Dr. Allan Zeman, Chairman of Ocean Park said, “As a responsible Park, we continue to explore all possible ways to acquire beluga whales in a sustainable manner. 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. Should belugas not become available through alternative sources prior to the opening of the Polar Adventure, the Park will explore other approaches to convey the conservation message of climate change.”
Since the beginning of the animal acquisition plan for Ocean Park’s Master Redevelopment Plan (MRP), the Park’s first priority for new animals has always been consistent with the Park’s acquisition policy – to first acquire animals from human care sources, with acquisition from the wild as a last alternative only to be considered 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 and sustainability.
In the process of reviewing human care facilities for available belugas, Ocean Park has run a parallel path of investigating wild sources by doing the necessary population research to ensure existing populations can support potential removals. As it is, the independent scientific research of the wild population reflects that the number of animals in Russian waters is growing. An independent review of the research was completed to validate the initial population assessment study and supported the findings with a slight reduction in the number of animals that could be collected and allow the population to remain sustainable.
This groundbreaking project has been precedent-setting and recognized around the world as the most responsible effort ever made by the zoo and aquarium industry for population assessment and exhibit development. Marine scientist and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) advisor Robert Brownell, who helped verify the study findings, commended Ocean Park for its “pioneering work” and said it could “be used by conservationists globally to push for similar assessments and quotas on other populations of whales and dolphins” (“The science of captivity”, China Daily, August 24, 2011).
Notwithstanding the supportive research results, Ocean Park has decided to decline the option of acquiring beluga whales from the wild after careful considerations.
Ocean Park believes in the power of zoological facilities to inform guests, change attitudes and influence conservation actions. The effectiveness of live animal displays and educational messaging at Ocean Park has been demonstrated in various third party studies in the past years, and is evidenced by over 100 million guests who have connect with nature through encountering the Park’s animal ambassadors and close to 600,000 local students who have participated in the Park’s engaging school courses. At the upcoming Polar Adventure, where iconic animals are presented along with educational and environmental messages, visitors can develop a greater respect for the animals and their habitats, and be inspired to change their attitudes and behaviour in ways that can help slow climate change and biodiversity loss.