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Video: Citizen Journalists Capture Hong Kong's Captive Dolphins Harming Themselves

Footage of dolphins at Hong Kong Ocean Park appearing to self-harm by slamming themselves against the pool wall, recorded by citizen news outlet inmediahk.net, has created a wave of online backlash against the marine mammal center.

During a two-hour visit at the park, which has a marine mammal breeding and research center as well as a marine mammal theme park and amusement park, reporters from inmediahk.net witnessed various abnormal behaviors of the dolphins, including one of the animals throwing itself into the side of the pool with force, making a loud popping sound.

Ocean Park insisted that the slamming act is a ”unique” habit and that “no injuries or deaths have been sustained as a result of the behavior depicted.”


(Video: reporters from inmediahk.net witnessed various abnormal behaviors of the dolphins.).

Dr. Samuel Hung, the chairman of the non-governmental organization the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, explained [zh] in a follow-up interview with the inmediahk.net reporters that the abnormal behavior, however, is a reaction to the enclosed artificial environment of the breeding center:

Dolphin Slamming itself against the wall of the pool. Image from inmediahk.net. Non-commercial use.

Dolphin slamming itself against the wall of the pool. Image from inmediahk.net. Non-commercial use.

雖然我們無法知道海豚想法,但這次海豚撞牆是十分罕見,至少我是第一次見。困養動物的行為很難理解,天性扭曲導致有異常行為,很難判斷海豚是否自殘。怎樣明確判斷為自殘行為,就好像沖繩海洋水簇館,海豚在表演途中跳出水池,這罷演行為正是自殘或自殺的表現。

Although we do not know what's in the dolphins’ mind, such behavior is very rare, in fact it is my first time to see such thing happen. It is very difficult to understand the behavior of a captive animal. Usually they would develop abnormal behavior when their nature is distorted [in an artificial environment]. It is yet too early to say that the act is self-harming and suicidal. What happened in the Okinawa Marine Museum was suicidal. The dolphin jumped out of the pool during the show. The suicidal act was like a “strike”.

Indeed, the “working conditions” of the dolphins are very disturbing, the reporters observed during the park's annual special program “Animal Month – In High Definition” [zh]:

劇場的四條海豚,長期處於高噪音環境下,劇場表演前為了娛賓,公園會派出樂隊作半小時的表演,另外14條海豚在研究中心也受到濾水器噪音長期折磨。海豚靠聽力覓食,發出聲響後可捕捉100米以內食物,聽覺頻率為1-150kHz 而人類聽覺頻率為 0.02-17kHz ,而最高可聽到40-100kHz。就算是一個普通人也抵受不了,何況是一條聽覺靈敏的海豚!

The four dolphins in the Ocean Theater are working in a very noisy environment: a live band usually performs on stage to entertain the tourists before the dolphins appear on stage. As for the 14 dolphins in the research center, they are also tortured by the water filter system round the clock. Dolphins rely on hearing to capture fish in the sea within 100 meters. Their auditory frequency is 1-150kHz., while human hearing frequency is 0.02-17kHz and the highest frequency audible to human is 40-100kHz. When human find the sound annoying, the sensitive dolphins would find it a torture!

海洋劇場的狹窄水池住上4條海豚,其中3條在出場前,還在不斷複習表演動作,另一條海豚則在半米深的水池進行「豚聚一刻」節目,在訓練員的指示下,做出不同動作去娛樂遊客,同時訓練員使力按壓海豚頭部同身軀,避免海豚一旦掙扎弄傷遊客之餘,亦方便遊客接踵上前拍照留念。海洋劇場表演每日公演四次,每場大約30分鐘,由於近年入場旅客増多,難以估計海豚除應付劇場表演所帶來的工作壓力外,還得要承受多少場「豚聚一刻」及「親親海豚」等特備節目的心理折磨。

Four dolphins were all together in the tiny pool of the Ocean Theater, three of them were constantly reviewing the performance routine before the show started; and the other one was forced to stay in a half-meter deep pool for the tourist program “Dolphin Encounter”. Under the instruction of the trainer, the dolphin had to entertain the tourists with different postures. While the tourists were lining up in queue to take a picture with the dolphin, the trainer had to press the dolphin's head and body to make sure that it would not struggle and hurt the tourists. Ocean Theater provide performances four times a day, about 30 minutes per session. As in recent years, the number of park visitors keeps increasing, apart from the pressure of performances, it is difficult to estimate the psychological torture derived from special tourist programs such as ”Dolphin Encounter” and “Kiss the Dolphin”.

The Ocean Park was initially a government-initiated project set up in 1977 and funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club to “assist in the understanding and practice of wildlife conservation”. The park ceased to be a subsidiary of the Hong Kong Jockey Club in 1987 and became an independent statutory body, the Ocean Park Corporation, with a board appointed by the government.

The amusement park also operates observatories, laboratories, an education department, and a whales and dolphins fund. The world's first dolphin born by artificial insemination was born in Hong Kong back in 2001. But the death of dolphin babies usually goes unnoticed because of the lack of a public monitoring mechanism [zh]:

打從2012年出現夭折或出世不久後死亡的海豚數目究竟有多少, 園方從沒設立公眾監察機制,亦沒對外公佈資料,因此海豚死亡數字一直成疑。再者園方從無公佈一些「敏感」資料,如雌雄海豚比例、海豚年齡、親疏關係、每年的死亡數字、海豚來源、繁殖記錄等等,巿民一概沒有知情權,一所聲稱開放的研究中心卻欠缺透明的監察機制,罔論擔當真正教育公眾的角色,試問一間漠視生命基本權利的機構,談何保育?又談何教育?

Since 2012, how many babies dolphins have died in the park? There is no public monitoring mechanism and no public report. The number remains a mystery. Moreover the park has not announced any “sensitive” information such as the ratio of male and female dolphins, ages, relations, origins, death records, and breeding records. As a public research center, how can it play the role of educator without basic transparency? How can it educate people about conservation if it does not respect life?

On social media, people expressed their concern for the animals at the center. Doris Woo, a secondary school student, commented in Facebook:

將心比己 如果將你成日困喺屋企個浴缸到 應該唔會再想生存落去
海洋公園其實一早已經變左做商業用地

Just imagine that you were locked in the bath tub at home, you would not want to live. The Ocean Park is now commercially run.

Lam Chet Yan, a local university student, pointed out:

海豚的聽覺非常敏銳,光是濾水器的聲音就足以讓他們壓力大到死亡,更別說表演時觀眾的喧囂聲早已讓他們崩潰。別再去觀賞動物表演,雖然海豚都笑瞇瞇的,但其實每一隻都壓力大到胃潰瘍在吃藥,也不要再去動物園,看著被囚禁的動物到底能學到什麼?還是單純因為人的「娛樂」就足以剝削動物到如此地步?

Dolphins have very sensitive hearing. The noise comes from the water filter system has already created too much pressure for them. The noise of tourists during their performance will make them crazy. Don't watch the show. Although they look as if they are smiling, their stress is immersive. Don't go to the zoo. What can you learn from the captive animal anyway? Or you think we can exploit animal like this for pure entertainment?

A petition calling for Ocean Park to phase out cetacean captivity had 809 signatures on Change.org as of May 28, 2013:

Please add my voice to those opposed to the Dolphin exhibit at Ocean Park. Concrete tanks cannot replicate the expanse of the ocean, nor can they fulfill the physical or psychological needs of these bright, social creatures.

Marine amusement park spectators see animals in captivity, where instinctive behaviors are lost in a made-for-profit world. Dolphins belong in the ocean, where they normally swim 100 miles a day. Swimming around a tank 500 times just to cover 50 miles is cruel punishment. […]

No matter how “state of the art” your facility may be, it simply cannot duplicate natural habitat. Wild dolphins live to 50; those in captivity rarely survive their teens. The National Marine Fisheries Service states that over half of all captured dolphins die in under two years. Survivors average 5.8 years in captivity. Socially bonded dolphins go insane when attempts to communicate through bouncing sonar waves create “boomerang” reverberations that literally bounce back at them. Many aquariums stock Pepto-Bismol to treat stress ulcers. Chlorinated tanks can cause dolphins to go blind and suffer skin disorders. Many succumb to pneumonia, ulcers or other stress-related illnesses.

Please consider diverting funds for this project toward local conservation efforts or other educational alternatives such as real-time videos of rehabilitation efforts broadcast into an “aquarium theater”, on to the internet, or into classrooms.

Trapped marine mammals are sad caricatures of the real thing. Please do not subject more creatures to pain and suffering for the sole purpose of public amusement.

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