Underwater World closure plan draws flak from animal lovers

LAURA PHILOMIN Channel NewsAsia 7 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Announcing it will be closing its doors to the public for good after 25 years of service later this month, Underwater World Singapore (UWS) said it has rehomed its pink dolphins, fur seals and otters in an aquarium in China, much to the dismay of local wildlife conservation groups.

In a press release issued on Monday (June 6), UWS said its lease at Sentosa expires in less than two years, but decided to close operations earlier — on June 26 — to ensure animals “have a good home to relocate to”.

“After nearly a year reviewing suitable facilities, we found a home for our pink dolphins, fur seals and otters. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, China — with one of the finest facilities in the world and a strong staff with expertise in marine mammal veterinary and husbandry care, as well as an active breeding and conservation programme — was selected as the best choice,” said UWS.

The transfer of the animals was approved by the authorities in both countries, it added. The park, a subsidiary of Haw Par Corporation, is still looking for suitable homes for its remaining animals. It did not say how many animals will be affected in total.

Instead of subjecting the animals to the stress of relocating to another country, wildlife conservation groups here said UWS, which has been criticised in the past for keeping pink dolphins in captivity, should have tried to rehabilitate the animals for release back into wild.

If that was not possible, transferring them to local facilities would have been the preferred option, especially at a time where Singapore already has plans to expand its wildlife attractions.

Animal Concerns Research & Education Society’s (Acres) chief executive Louis Ng was concerned about the stress the animals were subjected to during the transfer. He also hoped that Singapore’s host of other wildlife attractions such as Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore Zoo and River Safari would be able to take in the remaining animals at UWS. “We prefer transfers (rather) than (animals) captured from the wild, so it entirely makes sense to transfer existing collections to other facilities here,” he added.

Ms Ria Tan, who runs the blog Wild Shores of Singapore, questioned the animals’ state of health after the transfer, echoing other questions raised by wildlife groups on the welfare of the animals in their new environment, the type of care they would be provided and if they would be subjected to performing in shows.

Sea Shepherd’s Singapore coordinator James Chua said instead of moving the animals from one captivity setting to another, they should have been rehabilitated for release or moved to a sanctuary, as there is no guarantee the animals would be able to adapt to their new environment and survive.

He also said if UWS really wanted to help the dolphins, it could have consulted groups first on how to move forward with similar “rehab and release” programmes. “But, obviously, it’s more of a profit-making decision,” he added.

Chimelong has been touted as one of the largest aquariums in China and in the world, with performing Beluga whales, seals and dolphins, among others, and media reports have raised red flags over the welfare of the animals.

A Washington Post article in February, citing a report by the China Cetacean Alliance, said Chimelong houses 491 cetaceans, including 279 bottlenose dolphins, 114 belugas and nine orcas, many of which were captured from the wild using methods that are “known to cause stress and fear”.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, UWS said a transportation plan was co-developed by animal experts from the two aquariums for the dolphins, fur seals and otters, who were moved on Sunday.

Adding that the transfer was “smooth”, UWS said animals were accompanied by a specialist team from Chimelong throughout the journey, and have settled down into their new homes.

The Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said its officers were present during the moving process to safeguard the welfare of the animals. It also ensured UWS worked with Chimelong to come up with a process to minimise risk and stress to the dolphins during the process. For instance, prior to the move, trainers and a veterinarian from Chimelong spent time at UWS to familiarise themselves with the dolphins.

Asked why the transfer of the animals was not announced beforehand, UWS said a quarantine period was required by the Singapore authorities, and no announcement was made to allow the dolphins “a quiet isolation period”.

It did not address queries on concerns over Chimelong’s track record. But it said scientific data about the UWS dolphins was transferred to Chimelong, and it hoped UWS’ success in breeding and research will be continued to contribute to conservation efforts.

Underwater World Singapore to close Jun 26
Channel NewsAsia 6 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: Underwater World Singapore (UWS) and the Dolphin Lagoon are set to close on Jun 26 after 25 years of service, operator Haw Par announced on Monday (Jun 6).

Haw Par said that UWS had to vacate the facility and cease operations as the lease on the Sentosa attraction was expiring in less than two years. Its pink dolphins, fur seals and otters have been transferred to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, China.

Chimelong Ocean Kingdom has "one of the finest facilities in the world and a strong staff with expertise in marine mammal veterinary and husbandry care, as well as an active breeding and conservation programme", said Haw Par.

"Although UWS’ lease is not ending yet, ensuring that our CITES animals have a good home to relocate to is our responsibility and we decided to facilitate their transfer to COK and to cease operations earlier," it added. "The transfer of the UWS CITES animals to COK was approved by the authorities in Singapore and China and the animals were relocated last week."

As for its 70 staff, Underwater World Singapore told Channel NewsAsia they will be compensated in accordance with Singapore's Employment Act. It is also working with unions to organise a month-long outplacement programme to enhance their career-readiness and will consider them for internal re-deployment. "We will assist the staff, within our means, to look for alternative job opportunities since they have acquired valuable experience and knowledge during their employment with UWS."

Before the announcement, the "meet the dolphins" session at UWS had been closed since May 26, according to a notice on its website.

To mark its closing, UWS will provide free admissions to beneficiaries from charity partners it worked with in the past. From Tuesday (Jun 7), tickets will also return to 1991 prices, when the attraction first opened - S$9 per adult and S$5 per child.


UWS has faced increased competition since the Marine Life Park - which includes Dolphin Island and the S.E.A. Aquarium - opened at Resorts World Sentosa in 2012.

The Dolphin Lagoon was relaunched in 2010 after a revamp, and also welcomed the birth of a pink dolphin calf, Splish, in November 2014.

However, scandal struck the park earlier in 2014. In August that year, animal welfare groups Wildlife Watcher (Singapore) and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society published a report, detailing the "appalling" health of dolphins held at the Dolphin Lagoon as well as "sub-standard" conditions of other animals at Underwater World Singapore.

In response, UWS said that the dolphin in the report had non-transmissible skin cancer, and was being treated. It added that its facility complies with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA) licensing conditions for animal conditions.

The Marine Life Park at Resorts World Sentosa has also attracted its fair share of complaints, most recently in 2014 after the report of a dolphin death in the park. Three other dolphins out of a total of 27 set for the Marine Life Park died before they reached Singapore.


Visitors at Underwater World spoke to Channel NewsAsia about the attraction's 25-year history as well as its mixed legacy.

"We grew up coming to Underwater World so it's definitely really sad that it has to go, but I guess they face stiff competition from S.E.A Aquarium," said Vanessa Ho, 23, who works in operations. She added: "Animals belong in the wild; (the fact that) that Dolphin Lagoon is closing seems right". Businesswoman Irene Torio, 44, agreed, saying that dolphins "belong in the wild and to keep them in captivity is not a good idea".

Rhalina, 35, a tourist from Perth, added: "I think it's a shame because we too lost our equivalent. I didn't get to see the dolphins but they do enjoy the company of people, and it's a good educational tool."

Said engineer Val Tan: "It's sad that it's closing. I remember coming here in primary school when it had just opened and now I'm 32, but we're glad we got to bring our baby here before it closes."

But for Jennifer Ng, 29, a Vietnam national who works in Singapore, her visit came a little too late. She told Channel NewsAsia: "Today I brought my family (from Vietnam) to see the dolphins but they aren't here anymore." She mused: "But I guess it's good that they move. If I were in the same place for 25 years, I'd like to make a move too."

Dolphins at Underwater World have moved to China
Judith Tan The New Paper 8 Jun 16;
They are breaking the gang up after 25 years.

The Underwater World Singapore (UWS) and the Dolphin Lagoon at Sentosa will shutter their doors on June 26.

The lagoon's five pink dolphins, also known as Chinese White Dolphins, have gone to Zhuhai, China.

Along with them went three fur seals and five otters.

Their new home? The Chimelong Ocean Kingdom (COK), which was chosen after nearly a year of reviewing suitable facilities, a UWS spokesman told The New Paper yesterday.

"(It is) one of the finest in the world and has a strong staff with expertise in marine mammal veterinary and husbandry care.

"There is also an active breeding and conservation programme.

"COK agreed to adopt our Cites animals and is ready to receive them. The transfer was approved by the authorities in Singapore and China," she said.

Cites, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an international multilateral agreement between governments to ensure that trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

"In addition, the Pearl River Estuary in the surrounding area of Zhuhai City is one of the main habitats of the pink dolphins, also known as Giant Panda of the Sea, and is accorded Class 1 protection for endangered species at the national level in China," the UWS spokesman said.

The animals were relocated last week, together with scientific data about the UWS dolphins. "It is hoped that the breeding success and research at UWS can be continued at COK and help to contribute to the conservation efforts of this species.

"Their arrival at COK will also help to promote a better understanding of the Chinese White Dolphin among the public and create awareness in animal conservation," she added.

Mr James Chua, Singapore coordinator of ocean conservation organisation Sea Shepherd Asia, said it is a small victory on a global scale to have one less aquarium operating.

"Sea Shepherd's stand is clear and firm - we are against any cetaceans in captivity in any part of the world.

"Our investigative report has clearly shown with photographic evidence of the welfare standards, conditions of the animals and their enclosures in Underwater World Singapore.

"The release of the report has allowed the public to make an informed choice of whether to support such facilities, as well as voice out their concerns.

"Wholly owned by the Haw Par Corporation, the oceanarium housed some 2,500 marine life from 250 species around the region. It was popular for providing fun and educational interactive experiences.

Since the opening of UWS in 1991, some 30 million visitors have seen its exhibits.

"With the expiry of the lease at Sentosa in less than two years, UWS will have to vacate the facility and cease operations," UWS said in a press release yesterday.


To mark its closing and 25 years of service, UWS will be providing free admissions to beneficiaries from charity partners it had worked with.

And from today, ticket prices will be back to when the attraction first opened - $9 for an adult and $5 for a child.

Its Underwater Santa and Underwater God of Fortune, who usually appear over Christmas and Chinese New Year respectively, will be at the tunnel every day until June 26 to bid guests farewell.

Suitable homes sought for Underwater World's marine animals
An animal activist group and a marine biology expert Channel NewsAsia spoke to advocate releasing some of the marine animals back into the wild, according to their origins.
Lee Li Ying, Channel NewsAsia 8 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: The search is on for suitable homes for Underwater World Singapore's (UWS) marine animals, after it was announced that UWS will close later in June.

While the attraction's pink dolphins, fur seals and otters have already been relocated to an aquarium in China last week, questions remain over the remaining animals.

Wildlife group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) has called for the endangered sea turtles found at UWS to be returned to their habitats, and Singapore's shores have been proven to be suitable.

Said Ms Anbarasi Boopal, deputy chief executive of ACRES: "The sea turtles visited our shores repeatedly year after year. The animals will have to be assessed based on their health conditions and whether they are disease-free before they are released back into the wild. It's not something new for Underwater World; it has happened in 2006, (when) about 12 sea turtles were released into the South China Sea."

As for other marine animals in UWS, their fate is still uncertain. UWS' operator, Haw Par Corporation, said it is searching for suitable homes for sharks and fish like arapaima and clownfish.

Marine biology expert, Dr Huang Danwei from the National University of Singapore, shares the sentiment that these animals should be returned to the wild. But as most of them are not from Singapore's waters, it would not be suitable to release them here.

For example, leopard sharks are only found in the Pacific Coast of North America, and waters around the topics may be too warm for them to survive.

However, releasing them into the wild is also not a simple process.

To facilitate their release, the animal's origins have to be identified. After that, the appropriate permits have to be obtained as many countries have strict regulations on releasing animals back into the wild.

When they are on their way, they need to be transported in seawater with sufficient aeration. During the journey, they have to be fed till they arrive at their destination.

There are also other considerations. For example, clown fish will need to be transported with the appropriate anemone host species that they live with, so that they are not unnecessarily vulnerable to predators. Dr Huang said that ecologically speaking, it will take at least months, if not years, to do this properly.

Dr Huang mooted that it is possible that other facilities, like aquariums, can take these marine animals in, provided they provide the best care possible.

Resorts World Sentosa, which owns S.E.A. Aquarium, has declined to comment if it has been approached to take over these animals. On the other hand, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which owns Singapore Zoo and River Safari, said that it has not been contacted. The Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum has also said that it has not been contacted to take in the sea turtles, adding that they also do not have the expertise to do so.

- CNA/ms

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