The Straits Times: Dolphin activist fails to meet RWS management

World-acclaimed activist Ric O’Barry is in town and held a dialogue at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel this evening.

The heads of Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) were reportedly unable to meet him. RWS spokesperson Krist Boo communicated that “they had ‘no reason to meet Mr O’Barry, whose agenda is to seek the release of the dolphins'”.

The Straits Times story below.

Dolphin activist fails to meet RWS management

A few months ago, a well-known American dolphin activist wrote to Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) appealing to the integrated resort to free the 25 dolphins it plans to showcase at its upcoming Marine Life Park.

On Monday, Mr Ric O’Barry visited RWS, hoping to make the appeal in person to its chief executive Tan Hee Teck.

When he arrived, he was told that neither Mr Tan nor any of the senior management staff was available to meet him.

Recently, more animal lovers both here and abroad have come out to oppose RWS’ moves. Two US-based online activist groups, Avaaz and Change.org, have gathered nearly 800,000 signatures from members worldwide, including Singaporeans.

A disappointed Mr O’Barry, 72, who shot to fame with his movie, The Cove, on the killing of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, repeated his call to RWS to show that it is a ‘true steward of the environment’ and ‘a responsible company sensitive to the harm captivity inflicts on dolphins’.

He is giving a public talk tonight organised by Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), which has also lobbied RWS to free the dolphins caught in waters off the Solomon Islands, near Papua New Guinea.

The marine mammal specialist had offered his help to rehabilitate and release the dolphins back to their native habitat.

On Monday, Mr O’Barry said the offer still stands, adding: ‘The dolphins can adapt to their home range where they were born much easier than the concrete, steel and glass tanks at the Marine Life Park. If Resorts World frees the dolphins, it will be a massive windfall of good publicity for them.’

The activist, who investigated dolphin hunts in the Solomon Islands for a television documentary last year, said he hopes, through his public talk, to inform Singaporeans on how dolphins are caught in the wild and why it is cruel to keep them in captivity.

‘The dolphins are corralled into a cove by the villagers. The healthy ones are caught to be sold to aquariums but the others are speared, clubbed and stabbed to death.’

RWS has never revealed how much it paid for the 27 bottlenose dolphins bought from Canadian dolphin trader Chris Porter in 2008 and 2009. Two of them died from a water-borne bacterial infection in Langkawi, Malaysia, in October last year.

The remaining 25 are being housed at Ocean Adventure in Subic Bay in the Philippines.

The original plan to exhibit them along with whale sharks drew flak from environmental groups and animal lovers here. In May 2009, RWS scrapped that plan, saying it might not be able to care for whale sharks, which can grow to more than 12m and weigh 15 tonnes.

When asked why RWS management declined to meet the activist, its spokesman Krist Boo said they had ‘no reason to meet Mr O’Barry, whose agenda is to seek the release of the dolphins’.

She added that the dolphins have been in the resort’s care for three years and, since the track record of releasing dolphins back into the wild is patchy, RWS will be ‘gravely irresponsible’ to consider such an act.

She said the dolphins will not be used for spa therapy or shows at the Marine Life Park, which will open next year.

Instead, RWS will create a ‘marine-mammal encounter programme’ that will allow the dolphins and guests to interact in a safe and controlled environment.

‘Guests will observe, feel and learn about the dolphins up close and personal, while learning about the biological behaviour and protection of these charismatic and intelligent animals.’

She added that RWS is preparing to set up a breeding programme as well as a rescue and rehabilitation one for the dolphins.

Dolphin rescue and rehabilitation expert Robin Friday from Miami in the United States, who spent one month helping to care for Winter, the dolphin star in the recently released movie, Dolphin Tale, is acting as consultant for RWS’ rescue and rehabilitation programme.

But Mr O’Barry said catching and confining these animals, and training them to become something they are not, cannot possibly contribute towards constructive education on marine life and environmental issues.

Through the media, he had invited Mr Friday to attend his dialogue at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel to debate the issue.

But Mr Friday has turned down the invitation, saying he has no interest in debating him.

BACKGROUND STORY

Controversy continues

  • Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) bought 27 bottlenose dolphins from a Canadian trader in 2008 and 2009.
  • Nine were kept at a holding unit in Langkawi, Malaysia, while the rest were housed at Ocean Adventure in Subic Bay in the Philippines.
  • Two dolphins died from a bacterial infection in Langkawi last October. A few months later, the remaining seven were transferred to the Philippines.
  • RWS’ original plan was to exhibit the dolphins along with whale sharks in its 8ha Marine Life Park, which will be ready next year. But the plan drew criticism from environmental groups and animal lovers.
  • In May 2009, RWS scrapped the plan to exhibit whale sharks but said it would go ahead with its plan to use the dolphins.
Image of Louis Ng and Ric O’Barry taken from ACRES
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