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  Straits Times Forum 19 Oct 06
Rethink idea of having whale sharks in Sentosa lagoon
Letter from Thomas Paulraj Thamboo

I READ with great interest the various attractions that two of the bidders for the Sentosa integrated resort have proposed to build ('Bold plans, big investments promised by IR bidders'; ST, Oct 17).

However, I was concerned by one of the ideas proposed by one of the bidders.

This is the proposal to keep whale sharks in a lagoon where visitors could snorkel or dive with the creatures.

Whale sharks are majestic animals. They are the largest fish on the planet, capable of exceeding 12m in length. They are gentle filter-feeders, feeding on plankton.

Due to their size, filter-feeding habit and their observed tendency to perform occasional deep dives, these creatures need to be in the open sea, and a body of water the size of a lagoon (even a big lagoon) would inevitably put constraints on their natural behaviour and mode of living.

Some aquariums/oceanariums, notably those in Japan, have kept whale sharks with mixed success.

There may be a certain educational value to having captive whale sharks for visitors to observe and even interact with and this may raise awareness of the protected species.

However, this may not outweigh the negative effects on these large animals which ought to be able to range freely in open water.

I would love to dive with a whale shark, but not if it means keeping one of these creatures captive.

The proposed lagoon can be populated by smaller fish species that will not face space constraints in the way that whale sharks would.

Whale Sharks in Captivity on the Marine Conservation News website "It has been argued that such aquarium exhibits provide valuable publicity and raise public awareness to the plight of whale sharks in the wild. However the lifespan of the sharks in captivity has often been very short and tends to negate such positive aspects. Survival times ranged from as little as 3 days to the current record of nearly 10 years, dependant on their initial condition on arrival, as some animals had been injured during capture."

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