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  Straits Times 26 Oct 06
Activists against having a whale of a time
by Krist Boo

But bidders reject argument that having whales, dolphins in oceanariums is harmful.

Two bidders for Singapore's second casino resort expect visitors to have a whale of a time, but activists say keep the whales, dolphins and whale sharks out.

The animal rights groups and animal lovers have, in recent letters to The Straits Times' Forum page and in Web posting, argued that having those animals in captivity was harmful to them.

No so, say the two bidders -- Kerzner International and Genting International.

Their ambitious resort oceanariums will be the world's largest when built. Both will feature whale sharks are one of their star attractions. But animal lovers are perturbed that the captivity of the world's largest marine mammal is a 'giant step backwards' in animal welfare.

In defence, both Kerzner and Genting point to the credentials of their marine experts -- a list of veterinarians and conservationists -- as well as their track records in conservation.

Genting and Kerzner, the only pair in the three-horse race to have shown their bids, made public their proposals with much fanfare last week. The third bidder is Eighth Wonder.

Arguing against having whale sharks in captivity, Forum page writer Thomas Paulraj Thamboo said last Thursday: "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".

Joining forces in a letter to the Forum last week were the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), The Nature Society and the Animal Concerns and Education Society (Acres). The three groups jointly asked the Government not to approve the attractions.

In an interview, Acres president Louis Ng said on Monday: "We can progress with the two IRs, but there is no need to do so at the expense of the animals".

The two bidders were unfazed.

On the complaint about having to catch whale sharks in the wild, Genting's aquarium operator, Dolphin Quest said its Sentosa exhibit would likely be pups purchased from fishermen -- "rescued" on their way to slaughterhouses.

Dolphin Quest's chief executive Jeff Jouett said: "We've to have a wider perspective. In the wild, whale sharks are caught and eaten, sold for food. They do not have an easy life"

Whale sharks are not in captivity in only three places: the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, and Osaka's RIng of Fire Aquarium.

Their lifespans in captivity have not been impressive.

Asked if they were paying only lip service to conservation efforts, both bidders pointed to millions of dollars they had poured into research on sea creatures, and said they planned to do the same at Sentosa.

The groups are also against the captivity of whales and dolphins, especially the use of dolphins in aquarium shows.

But Mr Jouett said: "Almost everything we know today about dolphins and whales has been learnt in aquariums and oceanariums".

SPCA's executive office Deirdre Moss questioned the need to have another aquarium.

Kerzner responded in an email that polls have repeatedly shown that the public "support, by an overwhelming margin" the educational efforts of good aquariums.

Animal rights groups have complained before.

They wanted the Government to ban the performing pink dolphins in the Underwater World in 2003, but were unsuccessful.

Asked if they expected to make an impact this time, Mr Ng said: "It's worth a try. If we can get them to come to a compromise, we'd have made progress".

Captions to photos

Whale sharks: These 'gentle giants' of the sea feed on plankton and algae. They are the largest marine mammals in the world; the largest ever caught was 12m long. It is unknown how long they live in the wild but one estimate puts it at over a century. The oldest one in captivity is about 10 years old -- in Japan's Okinawa aquarium. They are considered endangered. Who will have them: Genting and Kerzner
(NOTE by wildsingapore: whale sharks are FISH, not mammals)

White whales: Also known as beluga whales, these mammals live in the Artic and sub-Arctic region. They are nicknamed 'sea canaries' because they make sounds while hunting and communicating. The only whales with no fused neck bones, they can nod and turn their heads, and make faces with their flexible lips and foreheads. They not considered endangered. Who will have them: Kerzner

Bottle-nosed dolphins: These highly intelligent mammals live in tropical and temperate waters around the world. They are not endangered, but are often killed inadvertently by fishing boats net-trawling for tuna, which they swim closely to. They hunt and communicate using high-pitched squeals and whistles. Who will have them: Genting

Dolphins: Suffering not Smiling on the Acres website
Ecocean about whale sharks. Brad Norman won the Rolex Award for his work on whale sharks and was in Singapore to receive this award.
Related articles on Sentosa IR
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