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Ocean Park Presents Animal Discovery Fest to Inspire Conservation Featuring Hong Kong’s Largest-ever Exhibition of Seahorses OPCFHK Announces Latest Results of First Local Seahorse Tagging Project

2014-03-25

Ocean Park continues to lead efforts to promote marine conservation by presenting for the first time Animal Discovery Fest during this Easter period from 5 April to 11 May. The event features the city’s largest-ever exhibition dedicated to seahorses and their relatives. All of the seahorses are from breeding programmes at other zoos and aquariums around the world, including many species never displayed in Hong Kong before. During the event period, the public will also have an opportunity to join behind-the-scene tours, including a programme available for the first time, where guests can learn about the husbandry of spotted seals in Polar Adventure. At today’s opening ceremony for the seahorse exhibition, the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong (OPCFHK) announced the latest results of its local seahorse survey populations, revealing that 10 yellow seahorses have been sighted in Hong Kong waters during a survey of 27 sites in 2013. As part of Hong Kong’s first seahorse tagging project, five of the sighted seahorses, being of suitable size, were tagged.

Dr. Allan Zeman, Chairman of Ocean Park, said, “Presenting the seahorse exhibition in Hong Kong has a special significance as the city is an important trading hub of dried seahorses. Indeed, seahorses are typically threatened by overexploitation for uses in traditional Chinese medicine, loss or degradation of natural habitats and bycatch in trawling fisheries. Historical records show that three species of seahorses inhabited local waters, including yellow seahorse, three-spot seahorse and Great seahorse. In recent years, only yellow seahorses were found, with no record of the other two species being sighted. Through this first-ever large-scale exhibition of seahorses and their relatives, we hope to raise awareness of the importance of their conservation. Among the seahorse species featured are the dwarf seahorse, at just one inch in length, and the potbelly seahorse, whose male individuals pump water into its pouch to appeal to the females. Several of the species on display are biologically related to seahorses and a number of seahorse species have never been displayed in Hong Kong before.”

The Secret Lives of Seahorses presented by Sea Horse Mattress Group is a walk-through exhibit with more than a dozen individual tanks, each decorated to replicate the natural habitat of the different species. For instance, ribbon pipehorses, never displayed in Hong Kong before, are presented with the type of seaweed that their body resembles for camouflage. Enriching the immersive experience is a series of educational displays on the lifecycle of seahorses, from growing up, courtship and mating to pregnancy and birth. Seahorses are unique in that it is the male individuals that become pregnant and bear the developing embryos.

Ms. Shadow Sin, Assistant Manager of Scientific Projects, OPCFHK, said, “There are about 54 seahorse species in the world, of which 11 have been listed as ‘vulnerable’ or ‘endangered’ in the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species. According to data reported in 2000, yellow seahorses are moderately abundant near local corals down to a depth of 7 metres. However, more detailed research is needed. Last year, OPCFHK initiated Hong Kong’s first-ever seahorse tagging project, whereby a small green oval PVC disc with a 3-digit number on one side are attached to individual seahorses found in local waters using a soft vinyl cord. The tagging initiative aims to monitor the long-term survivorship, growth, site-fidelity and home range of local seahorse populations, thereby providing important scientific data for future environmental impact assessments conducted in local waters.”

Ms. Shadow Sin added, “As part of our pioneering survey of local seahorse populations, our team surveyed 27 sites during 55 outings in 2013. A total of 10 sightings of yellow seahorses were recorded, with five seahorses being of suitable size to be tagged. During the first three months of 2014, two more seahorses have been tagged. We have recently received permission from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) to conduct seahorse tagging in Yan Chau Tong Marine Park and Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park, which will make our tagging initiative even more comprehensive.”

Dr. Vincent Lee, lecturer at the School of Chinese Medicine of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said, “Seahorses actually are not commonly prescribed in Chinese medicine, nor are they discussed in university courses on the subject. Given the popular culture of taking nutritional supplements, dried seahorse has become highly valued because it is traditionally believed to be beneficial to kidney functions. With many viable substitutes such as psoralea and fenugreek available widely, there is no reason to consume dried seahorse.”

During the Easter period from 5-11 May, Habitat Walk & Talk offers an unparalleled opportunity for guests to learn from animal experts about different animal ambassadors, including spotted seals, giant pandas, dolphins, sea jellies and Red-handed Tamarins, by visiting them behind the scene. Offered for the first time is a tour of the back of house facility at the Polar North attraction where guests can learn about seal husbandry and how seals have fun in their home. These programmes are all available at only HK$60 per person per session, and a special packaged rate at HK$90 for two will be offered this year. More importantly, 50% of the proceeds will be donated to OPCFHK in support of wildlife conservation projects across Asia.

All Get Closer to the Animals programmes, including Grand Aquarium Scuba Diving, Honorary Rainforest Animals Keeper, Penguin Encounter and more, are available at 25% off regular rates for SmartFun members. The general public can also enjoy a 50% discount deal on the second participant joining the programme.

Music and dance are important elements in the celebration of marine life during Animal Discovery Fest. At Carnival of the Ocean, guests can join the star of this year’s Animal Discovery Fest, the seahorse, alongside friends from the sea like sea jellies and fishes, all dressed in colour costumes and dancing to jovial music. Recycle Beats shows that water bottles, buckets and tins, when kept out of the seas, can be fantastic musical instruments. Kids will be mesmerized at the Ocean Palace’s SeaTime Puppets Show and be inspired to create their unique message about protecting the ocean at the crafts workshop after the show.

Parents looking for kids’ activities during the Easter holidays would do well to consider two “Spring School” programmes available during 18-27 April. Little Vet Team offers kids aged 4-5 a chance to visit giant pandas, the manta ray and the macaw; whilst Wise Animal Keeper lets children aged 6-7 visit the kinkajou and the snowy owl, as well as learn about husbandry at North Pole Encounter.

From now until 11 May, Megabox shopping mall is presenting a giant Animal Discovery Fest installation at the atrium of L5. The installation features Hong Kong’s first 20-foot high seahorse model, as well as a series of edu-taining displays on fun facts about seahorses and tips about sustainable seafood. Adjacent to the installation is a 60-inch screen showing a documentary about the life of seahorses, giving adults and kids a multimedia encounter with the adorable species during the Easter period.

Dr. Zeman concluded, “With so much on offer during Animal Discovery Fest, Ocean Park again is set to be the most popular destination during the Easter period!”