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Activists put Ocean Park in the spotlight

Last weekend, Ocean Park announced the death of six Hammerhead Sharks due to a highly contagious disease of “rapid morbidity and high mortality” in a mere six hours.

Though the park said it’s still investigating into the issue and has reported the incident to the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department almost immediately, pressure is mounting.

In 2011, the first Scalloped Hammerhead died when it was moved into the Grand Aquarium; a year later, activists campaigned against dolphins over-performing; as well, more than 80 endangered bluefin tuna and more than 13 endangered animals in its tropical rainforest exhibition died in the past two years and were only revealed after being exposed by the media.

Last weekend, animal advocate groups campaigned to boycott Ocean Park until it releases causes of death and data upon every incident instead of waiting for its annual report. They also question why the so-called “rescued animals” are never released back into the wild.

Action by boycott groups are now gaining momentum, with The South China Morning Post, Oriental Press, Metro Hong Kong and Apple Daily publishing reports on the developments.

Ocean Park, however, insists that its animals are all under the care of a team of qualified husbandry and veterinary staff and that the animals “are not releasable and they help inspire visitors’ intent to conserve nature”, wrote Ocean Park public affairs director Una Lau in a statement.

“While we and the protest organisers hold different positions on the value of maintaining dolphins under human care at Ocean Park, we strongly believe the animals truly help to emotionally connect visitors with nature.”

When asked whether the park will consider immediately releasing news of animal deaths to the public, Lau said Ocean Park already obliges to the “required transparency” established by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species on the reporting of “animal status, including birth and morality data” but added that “the park reviews and enhances its reporting practices and transparency on a regular basis to the public.”

“It’s humanly impossible to report on the death of every single animal in the park because we have more than thousands of animals, but we’ve actively taken initiatives in reporting all of the major deaths, especially those of endangered species.”

“We don’t deliberately want animals to be ill and sick. It just seems like a catastrophe when you focus on all the deaths that have all been happening lately,” she said, adding that the park will soon publicise their caring methods and, eventually, implement an educational programme for the public to learn about what happens behind the scenes.

“Ocean Park was the first zoological facility in the world to report animal acquisition, deposition, births and mortality data in the annual report, a practice which started two years ago,” she wrote.

“This year, the park made an unprecedented commitment to further strengthen the public assurance of the data reported with third-party audits. This is to remove any doubt of misreporting and to ensure that proper independent checks and balances are in place to oversee the entire reporting process.”

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