Sentosa's whale shark plan being reviewed

Straits Times 28 Nov 09;

THE authorities are still looking into whether Resorts World at Sentosa (RWS) will be allowed to drop a controversial plan to exhibit the world's largest fish.

The resort said in May that it might not be able to care for the animals, which can grow to more than 12m long and weigh up to 15 tonnes.

The whale sharks had been touted as a star attraction at the resort's 8ha oceanarium, the biggest in the world, when Genting International's RWS won its bid for the Sentosa integrated resort three years ago.

Whale sharks have been notoriously difficult to keep in captivity, and the news that they and other animals such as dolphins would be the highlights in the oceanarium had animal welfare and conservation groups up in arms.

The final nod on any proposed changes must be given by the Government.

Singapore Tourism Board (STB) director of integrated resorts Carrie Kwik confirmed that RWS had made a request for changes to its original submission, but did not say when any decision would be made.

'The STB is currently evaluating the proposal, taking into consideration its impact on the overall appeal of the IR and the benefits that it will bring to the project,' she said.

Whale sharks are filter feeders, which survive on plankton and other tiny creatures. They are listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and their import and export are controlled.

Researchers here say that keeping the gentle giants in captivity will be a mammoth task.

Professor Peter Ng, head of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore, noted that the only facility to have successfully done so was the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan.

'Even then, they can't stay in the tanks for long. The secret is that several whale sharks are kept in an enormous holding area in the ocean, and a complex engineering system hoists the sharks in and out of their tanks,' he said.

'I believe there will never be a whale shark in Singapore. We don't have the expertise, we don't have the space, and there's a global ban on the animals,' he added.

While RWS is set to have its soft opening early next year, its Marine Life Park is part of phase two of the facility's development and will be set up at a later date.

It is not clear whether earlier plans to have 700,000 marine creatures, ranging from tiger sharks to sea horses, are still in place.

The Straits Times understands that the sole purchases for the oceanarium so far have been seven dolphins caught in the wild.

These were shipped from the Solomon Islands and are being trained at an ocean park in Subic Bay in the Philippines.

Organisations such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are also against keeping dolphins caught in the wild, saying these mammals undergo stress and suffering in captivity.

RWS declined to give details on its new proposal, but said the marine park would be a key attraction, with a strong focus on education and marine life conservation.

Related post
Will there be a whale shark at Resorts World Sentosa? on the wild shores of singapore blog with links to related posts and articles.