10 September 2010

Sentosa's Dolphin Lagoon is too small: SPCA

Too small for its six dolphins and "a concrete swimming pool" says the SPCA of the new dolphin enclosure at Underwater World Singapore (UWS) as reported in the Straits Times today.
Screen shot from RazorTV videoclip of the new dolphin lagoon.

Previously, the dolphins were kept in a lagoon with "natural rock" and "a surface area of 1ha and held 30,000 cubic m of water, or enough water to fill 12 Olympic-size swimming pools."

UWS "did not give the dimensions of the new pool", but "said it exceeded international guidelines and safety standards. It has also been approved by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA)."

The SPCA said "individual pink dolphins in the wild have a home range of 30 sq km to 400 sq km." but UWS said "wild animals swim great distances to look for food" and pointed out that food is "provided for in captivity" of the UWS dolphins.

Today, BBC reports that wild dolphins in Australia have been discovered to have ingenious ways of hunting for their food.
The dolphins use their snouts to pick up and transport large conchs, possibly because they have learnt to bring the shells to the surface, where they can flush out and eat the fishes that hide in these large shells.

The wild dolphins also have other ways to hunt for fish. Such as 'kerplunking', where the dolphins slap their tails over seagrass meadows, creating bubbles that flush out fish hiding within.

Some dolphins intentionally pick up sponges and use them as 'gloves' to protect their sensitive snouts when rubbing them into the sandy seabed to forage.
Even more astoundingly, this habit is passed down from mother to offspring, the only known example of culturally transmitted tool use among cetaceans.

The UWS dolphins, who ostensibly don't have to hunt for their food, nevertheless have to work hard. In addition to daily shows, the dolphins are also used in Swim with the Dolphin programmes which allow people "45 mins of interaction time" at $150-$170 per person.

An article suggests there are no therapeutic benefits from swimming with dolphins. The person who started the practice discontinued it because "it boils down to the exploitation of vulnerable people and vulnerable dolphins." The article quotes The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society as citing reports of serious injuries to people who swim with dolphins, including bites and broken ribs, and the potential for disease transmission and stress for captive dolphins that are obliged to interact with a continuous stream of strangers and may be scratched by fingernails and jewelry.

A recent study has found dolphins to be "sophisticated, self-aware, highly intelligent beings with individual personalities, autonomy and an inner life. They are vulnerable to tremendous suffering and psychological trauma." The authors of the study say the growing industry of capturing and confining dolphins to perform in marine parks or to swim with tourists at resorts needs to be reconsidered.

In Singapore, ACRES' programme Suffering, Not Smiling: The Truth About Captive Dolphins started in 2003 calls for Underwater World Singapore to:
  • End the use of dolphins in animal shows at Dolphin Lagoon.
  • End the petting and Swim-with-Dolphin sessions at Dolphin Lagoon.
  • Stop the further imports of dolphins to the Dolphin Lagoon.
  • Begin research on the rehabilitation of the Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins and eventually release the Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins from the Dolphin Lagoon back into the wild.
There are wild Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins living free in Singapore waters. There are regular sightings of such wild dolphins, particularly in the waters of our Southern islands.

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