The Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) and several other environmental groups yesterday said that the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium kept whale sharks in small tanks that caused their health to deteriorate.
The group urged the aquarium to release the last remaining whale shark and not to bring in new ones.
According to EAST director Chen Yu-min (陳玉敏), the aquarium in Pingtung County has held three whale sharks — a species that has been listed on “Appendix II” of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and labeled “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature — in captivity since April 2004, in the name of education and marine research.
The groups’ investigation suggested that one whale shark died of poor health in 2007, another was secretly released into the ocean without undergoing rehabilitation or tagging for follow-up research the same year and the remaining 6m-long whale shark was being kept in a small tank, Chen said.
Showing a video clip and photographs of the remaining whale shark at a press conference in Taipei yesterday, Chen said that it had scars on its tail from hitting the tank’s walls and reefs in the tank because the tank was too small.
Citing data from whale shark tag release research conducted by Chuang Shou-cheng (莊守正), an associate professor at the National Taiwan Ocean University’s Department of Environmental Biology and Fisheries Science, the groups said that whale sharks often stay in deep waters — about 5m to 10m below the sea surface, but sometimes submerge to 80m below sea level, and that they can migrate up to 34km a day.
Keeping the whale shark in its current tank, which is 33m long, 22m wide and about 8m to 12m in depth, is like keeping it in a jail cell, the groups said, adding that the video showed the whale shark swimming in the tank in the same circling direction.
It took the whale shark about 50 to 80 seconds to swim a circle in the tank, which meant that it would swim about 360 to 576 circles just in the eight hours that the aquarium was open daily, the groups said.
Lai Wei-jen (賴威任), office director of the Kuroshio Ocean Education Foundation, said whale sharks have a life span of about 70 to 100 years in the ocean, but data from an aquarium in Okinawa, Japan, showed that 16 whale sharks kept in captivity during the period from 1980 to 1998 lived for an average of only 16 months.
Lee Chan-rong (李展榮), an official at the aquarium, said the aquarium has proposed to tag release the remaining whale shark after it introduces a new small whale shark into the tank, allowing the bigger whale shark to teach the new whale shark for a while.
The groups urged the government not to approve the proposal to introduce any whale sharks, and to ask the aquarium to tag release the remaining whale shark as soon as possible.