11 October 2008

Sammy the whale shark: focus on lack of accreditation

Lack of accrediation with the AZA is being discussed on the facebook group on the issue. The discussion seems to be based on an email exchange on the Coral List (see below). The facebook group now has more than 3,000 members.

Meanwhile the campaign on Gulf News proceeds with some comments such as:
"After viewing the whale shark at Atlantis gathering swim patterns, it isn't rocket science," said Jarrod, from Melbourne, Australia. "It just swims in a circle constantly instead of navigating the ocean. The hotel would have known all along they wanted an attraction like a whale shark and made a poor excuse of rescuing it."

Rajesh from Dubai is more forthright: "Those who feel the shark is alright in the aquarium, I request them to lock themselves up in a room for a few years and see," he said.

"To say the animal is not endangered does not mean it is safe," said Roland, from Dubai. "Very little is known about these animals and being as large as they are they take a lot longer to reach sexual maturity (around 30 years).

Email exchange on the Atlantis Dubai whale shark on the Coral-List
Date: Thu, 9 Oct 2008 09:53:09 -0400
Subject: [Coral-List] Atlantis Dubai whale shark

A friend in Dubai has contacted me to express concern about the fate of the 4 m whale shark "rescued" in early September 2008 and since confined to the aquarium at the Atlantis Hotel in the Palm, Dubai. The explanation offered to the public for keeping the shark incarcerated is to allow it to recuperate from stress and for scientific study. Sceptics suspect more self-interested reasons. The CITES listing of this species is an interesting wrinkle. Hoping to establish the smoke to fire ratio, I would like to hear about the pros and cons of this situation from people with professional experience with whale shark biology, and especially those with arms-length experience with this particular case.



From: Sarah Frias-Torres
Sent: Thursday, October 09, 2008 8:18 AM
To: William Allison; coral-list coral-list
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Atlantis Dubai whale shark

Bill,"We must protect the wild ocean". This is one of the many messages that comes out of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Conference (IUCN), ocurring right now in Barcelona. I will not enter into a debate over captive vs non captive marine wildlife, although that could be the subject of another chain of emails. First, the facts.IUCN's red list, has whale sharks as VULNERABLE, although as scientists learn more about the species, it is possible that some local feeding grounds (where whale sharks aggregate) will be classfied as ENDANGERED. CITES lists the species under appendix II, as a species not threatened by extinction but trade needs to be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with survival. If you go into the details of permits, etc, you find an interesting clause that says: "in the case of a live animal....it must be prepared/shipped to minimize any risk of injury, damage or health or CRUEL TREATMENT. As for keeping a whale shark or any wildlife (terrestrial or marine) in captivity, in the USA, the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) has set up a series of very restrictive and demanding conditions in order for an aquarium to earn accreditation.

Those regulations involve adequate husbandry, and justification of having the captive animal, which usually involves setting up quite an extensive long term educational and research program, as well as a captive reproductive program whenever possible. Within the USA, the Georgia Aquarium has successfully kep alive two juvenile whale sharks, which were originally captured in Indonesia, and ready to be killed. This aquarium is fully accreditted by AZA, and has established an extremely active research and educational program on the species. The international sister of AZA is... WAZA (the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) which follows equally
restrictive and demading regulations for institutions to earn accreditation.

The Atlantic Hotel in the Palm, Dubai, is NOT accredited under WAZA to keep any marine wildlife captive. You can go to the WAZA web site, and check for the list of accredited institutions yourself. In conclusion, the Atlantic Hotel in the Palm in Dubai, is NOT accredited to keep marine wildlife in captivity, therefore, not accredited to keep a whale shark, because it does not comply with the requirements needed to do so. Keeping the shark incarcerated "in order to recuperate from stress" is bogus, as that is not the way you reduce stress in a whale shark (but see comments above about AZA and WAZA), and "for scientific study", that will be interesting to see, but it looks the same bogus argument of the "scientific whaling" used by the Japanese in order to continue killing cetaceans. The hotel may argue that because they are a hotel, not a public aquarium, they don't need WAZA's accreditation. But that begs the question, why they have captive marine wildlife in the first place.

If they have it for the "pleasure of their guests" that contradicts their statements on "recuperation from stress and for scientific study". The shark must be released at once.

Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D.
Marine Conservation Biologist
Ocean Research and Conservation Assocaition, Florida USA


From: Delbeek, Charles cdelbeek at calacademy.org
Sent: Thu Oct 9 13:38:56 EDT 2008

Actually the Georgia Aquarium has FOUR whale sharks and they were collected in Taiwan.

Just because an institution does not belong to AZA or WAZA does NOT mean it is not capable or competent to keep marine life in captivity. Joining these associations is a matter of choice, it is not a requirement. Being in such as association ensures that certain standards are being met, but those standards can still be met or even exceeded whether you are a member or not. Also, it is not uncommon for new institutions to take a year or more to become accredited due to the extremely involved process and amount of paperwork that needs to be done; this can take up to two years. So even though Palm Dubai is not currently affiliated with any association it does not mean they won't soon be. Their sister institution in the Bahamas is accredited by AZA I believe.


J. Charles Delbeek

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