No whale sharks at Sentosa IR

Resorts World exploring other 'conservation-focused' options
Grace Chua, Straits Times 16 May 09;

RESORTS World at Sentosa (RWS) is scrapping its plan to exhibit whale sharks at its upcoming Marine Life Park.

The creatures had been touted as a star attraction for the 8ha oceanarium, the world's largest, when Genting International's RWS won its bid for the Sentosa integrated resort (IR) three years ago.

The plan drew intense flak from animal welfare organisations such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which highlighted the limited space for huge animals that can grow to over 12m long, and their dismal survival rate in captivity.

The developer stuck to its guns - but now may have realised it made a mistake.

RWS spokesman Krist Boo admitted the resort was hoping to back out of its original plan as it believes it may not be able to care for the animals.

She told The Straits Times on Friday: 'We are discussing and exploring an alternative proposal to having whale sharks.'

The new proposal, like any change to the original IR plan, must be presented to the Government.

Lobbying against the whale shark plan began almost as soon as it was announced. In recent months, however, it has increased, with groups such as the SPCA, Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society chiming in. An online petition with 9,000 signatures and a Facebook group now numbering 2,000 members have also come up.

RWS said it has been engaging the groups since 2007, though Ms Boo said that its action was not governed by 'fleeting public opinion', but 'conservation of this species'. Only the whale shark exhibit would be changed, she said, adding that the replacement would be conservation-focused.

The change is not expected to affect the cost of the IR, an expected $6.59 billion. The opening date of the Marine Life Park has yet to be confirmed, but will be after RWS' first section opens early next year. It is not clear whether earlier plans to have 700,000 marine creatures, including tiger sharks, piranhas and dolphins, are still in place.

Animal welfare groups also oppose the idea of dolphins in captivity. Still, they consider the latest development a significant victory.

Ms Deirdre Moss, executive officer of the SPCA, said: 'The SPCA is delighted that Resorts World has chosen to go this route, which would mean that whale sharks will be spared from being held captive in Singapore.'

Last month, RWS presented to non-governmental organisations and individuals an alternative proposal which is still under discussion.

Environmental blogger November Tan, 27, who was involved in the discussion, said: 'I am glad there won't be whale sharks, and I hope (civil society groups) will be involved in further consultations.'

But another potential flashpoint concerns dolphins caught in the wild, as these animals undergo 'considerable stress and suffering' in captivity, the SPCA's Ms Moss said.

Last December, the first batch of seven dolphins meant for RWS were shipped from the Solomon Islands to the Philippines, raising conservationists' ire.

Casino mulls alternatives to whale shark exhibit
AFP 16 May 09;
also carried on Channel NewsAsia on 16 May

SINGAPORE (AFP) — A Singapore casino developer said Saturday it was considering alternatives to its plan to exhibit whale sharks, the world's largest fish, which had run into strong opposition from animal welfare groups.

"We have started to explore plans for an alternative to a whale shark exhibit," Krist Boo, the spokeswoman for Resorts World at Sentosa, told AFP.

Resorts World at Sentosa, one of two casino resorts being built in Singapore, had planned to import the whale sharks for its Marine Life Park (MLP) which is set to become the world's biggest oceanarium upon completion.

The park however said its move was not due to pressure by the seven animal welfare groups which have launched an online petition that has gathered more than 9,000 signatures.

"The MLP team does not take its responsibilities to both conservation and Singapore lightly and as such, we spent the past two years doing much groundwork," it said in a statement to AFP.

"We strongly believe that our action must be governed by the conservation of this species rather than what is dictated by fleeting public opinion."

Alternative options to the whale shark exhibit being considered by the MLP were shown to the various animal welfare groups last month, it said.

"This proposal is still in the process of being refined for a further round of review," the MLP said.

Any changes to the planned whale shark exhibit would have to get the final approval of the Singapore government.

Animal welfare groups welcomed the move by Resorts World at Sentosa to consider alternatives to exhibiting whale sharks, which can reach lengths of 12 metres (40 feet) or the size of a bus.

"I think it's very progressive in that they are considering other alternatives," said Louis Ng, executive director and founder of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society group.

Jaki Teo, the campaign coordinator behind the online petition (www.whalesharkpetition.com), hoped the authorities would consider the concerns raised by animal welfare groups about the whale sharks.

"A lot of the concerns are about the fact that they are not suited to be held in captivity," she said.

Although massive, whale sharks are docile and feed on plankton.

Resorts World at Sentosa is scheduled to open in phases starting from early 2010 and will feature the world's biggest oceanarium with 700,000 fish.

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