Ocean Park, Hong Kong: A Different Approach To Belugas

BelugaThe New York Times weighs in with a well-reported story about the controversy over the Georgia Aquarium’s plan to import 18 wild belugas from Russia.

The story contains an absolutely classic example of the bogus beluga rationale I wrote about the other day, again courtesy of Georgia Aquarium’s William Hurley:

But beyond those legal considerations, said William Hurley, a senior vice president of the Georgia Aquarium, marine institutions need a strong captive population for research that could help safeguard the beluga as its Arctic habitat is transformed by a changing climate.

“If you don’t have enough of these animals in our care and don’t have enough to extend that for more decades,” Mr. Hurley said, the aquarium will be unable to unlock “the secrets these animals hold.”

What the story doesn’t mention is that not all the marine parks that originally set out to research this Russian beluga population, as a step toward importing wild belugas from Russia, are in agreement about displaying belugas.

Ocean Park in Hong Kong was part of the marine park consortium that helped fund the research, and was planning to import some of the belugas for its new Polar Adventure exhibit. But along the way, Ocean Park decided that it would not include belugas in the exhibit, and would not be importing any of the 18 belugas captured in Russia for the consortium.

Beluga SantaOver the summer, I called Allan Zeman, the chairman of Ocean Park’s Board Of Directors to ask why. He was refreshingly forthright and candid about Ocean Park’s decision. And his thinking is an example of how at least one marine park looked at the ethics of displaying belugas and–despite the fact that belugas are popular with the public and generate lots of revenue–decided to go another direction.

Here is what Zeman told me, lightly edited for clarity:

What happened with the belugas is that we originally six years ago talked about doing belugas and other animals. Ocean Park is really about animals. It’s similar to SeaWorld.

Nobody 6 or 7 years ago came out against the idea. Everyone was excited about plan, which even had polar bears. But after we started designing the park–the CEO and myself–we started traveling around to familiarize ourselves with the animals in different parks. Nobody said anything. Most people didn’t know what a beluga was, except for the animal rights people. Continue reading “Ocean Park, Hong Kong: A Different Approach To Belugas”