Activists raise concern over blacktip reef sharks kept in dental clinic aquarium

Audrey Tan Straits Times 11 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - Animal activists have raised concerns over three juvenile blacktip reef sharks spotted in the aquarium of a dental clinic in Tanjong Pagar, calling for the animals to be moved to a bigger facility.

While it is not illegal to keep the sharks in a tank, activists worry that the small space may constrict the growth of these animals.

The issue is whether such large-ranging animals should be kept in private tanks in the first place, said marine conservationist and photographer Michael Aw, 61.

Blacktip reef sharks, which can be found in Singapore's waters, typically grow to 1.6m, and up to 2.9m, said Mr Aw.

The sharks seen at the Braces & Implant Dental Centre at 163, Tras Street, now measure about an arm's length, or about 0.3m.

"The tank is far too small to allow for the natural growth and behaviour of this species," said Mr Aw. "Black tips are (related to) the bull shark and oceanic whitetip shark - they are big animals and free ranging."

In response to queries, a spokesman for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said its officers have visited the dental clinic and did not find any animal welfare issues.

Blacktip reef sharks seen in display aquarium of dental clinic

"The clinic has also engaged an aquarist to maintain the tank and take care of the fishes. The sharks were also seen by an aquatic veterinarian," said AVA.

The sharks are likely recent acquisitions by the clinic.

The animals were spotted in the tank in the last week of December by one of Mr Aw's colleagues, Ms Linda Leong, who took a video of the sharks and uploaded it on Facebook.

The video prompted netizens and local marine conservationists to express concern about the welfare of the animals.

A group of conservationists led by Mr Aw then sent an e-mail to the dental clinic, asking for permission to relocate the sharks to a fish farm with an open sea pen.

Dr Jimmy Gian from the dental clinic told the group that the clinic intended to move the sharks when they got bigger, but did not give details on where they will be moved to, according to e-mail exchanges seen by The Straits Times.

Dr Gian said the objective of the aquarium was to show the public "the beautiful side of sharks", and to change the perception that sharks are fearsome.

"Our main aim is to bring the marine aquarium to the busy people of Singapore who don't have your privilege of diving in clear waters or have the extra money to bring their families to (Resorts World Sentosa's or RWS') aquarium to see sharks and other marine animals," he said in the e-mail.

Dr Gian also agreed to Mr Aw's suggestion to work together on an "outcome that will benefit the public and fishes".

He said he did not require financial compensation, but suggested that the conservationists provide "a total of 600 entry tickets to the RWS Aquarium for underprivileged children/families of our choice to visit and see the sharks & beauty of ocean life".

Mr Aw, who founded the Ocean Geographic magazine, said he has no affiliation with RWS and came up with a counter-offer of 600 invitations to an upcoming Sharks4Kids programme in April and discounted subscriptions to the magazine.

Mr Aw said Dr Gian has yet to reply to the latest e-mail. The Straits Times has also reached out to Dr Gian for comment.