The Marine Life Park aspires to be a showcase for ocean science conservation, research and education.
To give you a better idea of what Marine Life Park is all about, here are more answers to some frequently asked questions.
1. Why has Resort World Sentosa decided to display dolphins when there is controversy surrounding this?
It is easy to believe that leaving dolphins to live in the wild is the right thing to do. We all love images of dolphins swimming in blue limitless waters. It is far more difficult to get people to see what’s happening below the water or on the surface of our oceans. If you are tuned into the environment, you know oceans are struggling more than they ever have. Seeing a dolphin in the wild might not necessarily indicate that it has not ingested oil, or eaten radiated fish or survived an attack by a hungry shark. We all want a wild that is free from nuclear waste, oil spills and depleted fish supplies.
Increased vulnerability to diseases, as well as reproductive failure, are concerns for wild dolphin populations due to extremely high accumulation of chemical and metal residues released into the environment by human activities through runoff or incineration and airborne transport of toxic chemicals (Starvos et al., 2011; Hall et al., 2006; Wells et al., 2005; Schwacke et al., 2002; Lahvis et al., 1995; Kuehl et al., 1991; Cockcroft et al., 1989). These findings have both direct and indirect impact on human health as well (Fair et al., 2007; Bossart, 2006; Houde et al., 2005).
We believe now more than ever, that zoological parks and research are necessary because in today’s world, humans and animals are no longer isolated from each other. Almost everything we do affects them and our shared environment. We want to work for marine animals and with marine animals. And, yes, we believe there is a great need for healthy populations of dolphins in the wild and a small number in zoological parks that have the ability to properly care for them and learn from them.
2. Isn’t life in captivity cruel for dolphins that need miles of wide-open space?
It is tough to make spatial judgments for any organism: humans, pets or wild animals.
It is not the pools that make a difference. We have learned that what makes the difference: 1) adequate space; 2) a varied daily schedule of activities including play, learning, exercise, socialization and rest; 3) a healthy diet; 4) uncompromised medical care; and most importantly; 5) positive relationships and interactions with humans.
Our dedicated team of experts from Marine Life Park (MLP) includes highly respected veterinarians and experts from various fields in marine husbandry, and they are committed in providing the very best care for our dolphins with a superior diet, daily behavioral enrichment and veterinary care. There are five vets in this core team, counting over 75 years of experience between them. We have also built a marine mammal clinical diagnostic laboratory to ensure proactive animal health exams and treatments are available around-the-clock. All our dolphins have been under a robust health and husbandry programme since the beginning. This programme will continue at the animals’ new facility at our Marine Life Park when it opens.
3. Are you going to make them perform and do tricks?
We do not intend to do shows, but will surely allow them to explore the range of their natural physical abilities in exercise sessions.
4. Why are dolphins playing with basketballs and hula hoops?
As we have always maintained, there are no plans to conduct animal shows. Dolphins in the wild are often in search of opportunities to interact and play. In zoological environments, balls and hoops encourage play activities among dolphins. These activities promote health and social interaction among the animals. As part of caring for our marine mammals, the Marine Life Park team has introduced various enrichment devices that are water resistant, durable and safe for our animals.
Our dolphins are now in a well-established facility in Subic Bay, the Philippines. It includes a dedicated veterinary clinic, a marine mammal clinical diagnostic laboratory and enclosures that exceed international standards. Our dolphins are cared for by our team of veterinarians and marine mammal specialists who collectively represent over 300 years of relevant experience working in more than 60 marine mammal facilities globally.
5. Don’t you force dolphins to be with humans?
No. We build a relationship with the animals, but we never “force” an animal to be with humans. In fact a lot of time will be allotted for dolphins to interact with other dolphins in small and large groups.
There are examples of many wild animals seeking out strange animal companions or humans when alone. Bonds are important and our dolphins have humans and a pod of 25 animals with which they will interact.
We encourage you to reserve your opinion until you see our dolphins in their new home at our MLP and meet the skilled caregivers who will carefully guide the animals along their acclimation process.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Frozen fish is often a better alternative than live fish as the freezing process destroys any parasite load food fish may carry. In addition to this, the types of fish selected have the optimal amount of nutrients and taste. Even so, we go beyond and supplement the fish with vitamins. We only use positive re-enforcement techniques to bond with our dolphins. Each of them has a specific diet that is specially designed by our veterinary and animal care team to ensure they receive the proper amount of nutritious food in order to keep them healthy.
7. Won’t your dolphins live shorter lives in captivity?
These days, the lifespan of dolphins in marine parks and aquariums is expected to be longer than many in the wild, including those who have been exposed to oil spills, forced to compete with other predators or eat contaminated food.
Based on recent research by the Alliance of Marine Mammals and Aquariums, the estimated median lifespan of bottlenose dolphins in human care is now nearly double that of dolphins in the wild.
8. Where are the dolphins and how are they coping?
Our dolphins are currently housed in Subic Bay, the Philippines, in a facility that is safe and conducive to their health and well-being. We exceed stringent international regulations in our facility and ensure our dolphins have space to play, rest, interact and grow healthily.
9. Did two of your dolphins die? If so, how?
In 2010, we were saddened by the loss of two of our dolphins to a water-borne bacterial infection Melioidosis that also afflicts animals in the wild. No medical expense or effort was spared but, unfortunately, we could not save them. MLP will be participating in efforts to learn more about this disorder for the benefit of wild and captive populations.
10. Why can’t you focus your conservation efforts on why dolphins are disappearing in the wild rather than do it in your aquarium?
Conservation activism and action result from many things; it could be from education programmes, field research, an ocean experience, a tragedy or a film. Our blue planet needs our help in all forms and for us to work together.
Our Marine Life Fund is set up to support many field conservation programmes. These all contribute to reversing the many downward trends in wild environments and populations. We maintain that combining learning in controlled environments with that in wild environments is the best way forward, while getting people to embrace an experience with such an incredible marine animal. In light of continued ocean and marine life health decline, we see zoological institutions as being the last haven for some species, much like zoos have been for 20 species that were saved from extinction.
11. Why can’t you release the dolphins?
We are unequivocal in our commitment to taking on the responsibility of providing uncompromised care for all our marine animals including our dolphins. Our dolphins have been in our care for three years. They have acclimated to human care, and we are confident they will continue to thrive.
12. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have already signed a few global petitions to you to free the dolphins. Why is the MLP still keeping these dolphins?
To put it in context, it is a fact that millions of people visit marine life parks each year. Their encounters have inspired many to take up careers in marine biology, veterinary science, and to take action on marine conservation.
As with any public issue, there will always be divergent views. However, we hope animal lovers would do their research and learn about these animals from various sources to get a balanced view. We are always opened to dialogue and suggestions that help us advance our marine conservation and education mission.
We will continue to do what is best for our animals. We know that putting our animals back into the wild does not advance the cause for their conservation.
13. Why are you saying that dolphins are no longer safe in the wild?
More and more, we humans find ourselves competing with, and thereby threatening wildlife. Increasingly, we must share the same environment and resources. The marine life in our oceans is increasingly facing a struggle to survive against ongoing man-made and natural environmental disasters, as recent events have shown us. And for decades to come, such devastating catastrophes and conflicts will continue to challenge the survival of animal life in the wild, highlighting why we so strongly believe that zoological facilities will continue to play a crucial role in today’s world. Through the medium of marine life parks, the public and researchers can effectively learn about marine animals, oceans, and the complex interconnections we share with planet Earth.
14. Why are you so certain that MLP will be able to contribute to education and conservation?
We have seen that the zoological model works. We hope to get people excited about oceans and protecting them as well as using our funds to do effective marine conservation, research and education. This mission unites every zoological institution with high standards hoping to impact its community and visitors.
Well-run zoological facilities can also serve as protective guardians of individual animals, especially for those species living in habitats that are in peril. Now, more than ever, it is timely for us to fulfill this significant role before it is too late. We do not want to see a reoccurrence of another dolphin going extinct such as the Yangtze River Dolphin. If these animals had been studied in captivity and if there was a zoological population, there would have been hope for their survival.
Various studies have demonstrated that research with marine mammals under the care of reputable zoological facilities has been and continues to be instrumental in increasing our understanding of dolphin perceptual and cognitive abilities, dolphin communication, dolphin physiology and reproduction as well as dolphin social behaviour (Stan A. Kuczaj II, 2010), among others. Such valuable information yielded, especially via long-term studies, would have been impossible to achieve for those marine mammals living in the wild.
Two independent research studies conducted in 2009 further conclude that guests who view dolphins in zoological setting demonstrated an increase in conservation-related knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intentions immediately following their experience and retain what they learn. Participants in dolphin interactive program learned about the animals and conservation, shifted their attitudes, and acquired a sense of personal responsibility for environmental stewardship (Miller, 2009; Sweeney, 2009).
15. What have you done so far in marine conservation and education?
We have set a clear vision to build a MLP that will make a mark in marine conservation and research. We have promoted conservation causes such as sustainable sharks finning, saved corals, funded anti-poaching patrols in the Galapagos Islands, and set up the Marine Life Fund for marine conservation and research.
High on our agenda is our mission to make MLP a world-class institution by hosting conservation and education based programmes and curricula in matters relating to the MLP’s entire collection, including our dolphins. For our research programmes, the MLP team will collaborate with other globally recognised research facilities and institutions in joint research ventures.
On the educational front, Resorts World Sentosa recently entered into an agreement with Sea Research Foundation to jointly develop a marine environmental curriculum for students in Southeast Asia. Contents of the tertiary school curriculum will be drawn from Sea Research Foundation’s Mystic Aquarium, distinguished for its marine animal education, research and husbandry expertise.
As part of the three-year agreement, Sea Research Foundation and the National Geographic Society will join forces with the MLP to bring the award-winning JASON Project science programs to students in the region. For more information on JASON Project, please visit www.jason.org.
If you wish to read more about the Marine Life Park or about the dolphins, please visit the RWS website