Wed, May 07, 2014 - Page 3 News List

Aquarium panned over exhibits’ care

PROFIT FIRST?Critics say the company running the aquarium is too focused on making money, while its director says biodiversity should be the priority

By Tsai Tsung-hsien and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

A manta ray swims in the National Museum of Marine Biology’s aquarium in Checheng Township, Pingtung County, on Monday.

Photo: Tsai Tsung-hsien, Taipei Times

The National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium has come under fire once again over its handling of the creatures in its care, after a manta ray died before it could go on display.

Marine conservationists said the manta ray was about 3m in width and had been shipped to the aquarium in the middle of March. They said it was found dead in its tank in the early hours of April 27.

“The ray had been reluctant to eat for the past two months, presumably because of injuries to its skin and the aquarium staff’s failure to train it to feed on prepared food,” they said.

Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan researcher Lin Tai-ching (林岱瑾) said the aquarium, which is operated by the Hi-Scene World Enterprise Co under a build-operate-transfer model, is putting profits ahead of the well-being of marine animals.

“The company has for years sought to boost ticket sales by introducing popular marine creatures, such as belugas and whale sharks. However, six of the 10 white whales it imported from Russia [in 2002 and 2006] have died,” Lin said.

Two of the three whale sharks the aquarium purchased from fishermen in Yilan County’s Nanfangao (南方澳) in 2005 have died, Lin said.

“One of them was released into the sea in March 2007, one died of disease in May 2007 and one was believed to have died before it was put back into the ocean in July last year,” Lin said.

The release of the last whale shark, which measured 7.2m in length and weighed 3.6 tonnes, was particularly controversial, because the aquarium chose a location that was reportedly too close to the shore.

The whale shark stranded itself twice before it disappeared beneath the waves.

Animal rights activists believed the whale shark died from the multiple injuries it sustained from the first two attempts to release it, citing video footage showing the whale shark turning upside down when it sank during the third and final release attempt.

Aquarium director Wang Wei-hsien (王維賢) said he had not known about the manta ray until it was transported to the aquarium.

“We were rather upset about the late notice and issued the company a warning,” he said.

“Nevertheless, we still made a great effort trying to keep the ray healthy, including inviting a Singaporean manta ray expert to help take care of it,” Wang said.

The manta ray was buried because the aquarium did not have enough space to preserve the body for exhibition.

Wang said Hi-Scene World should make biodiversity its top priority and follow standard operating procedures when introducing new species to the aquarium.

Hi-Scene World planning department director Chang Cheng-chieh (張正杰) said the manta ray was captured by fishermen off the coast of Pingtung County’s Jhukeng Village (竹坑) and that his department had decided to cut the red tape to take delivery of the creature and notify the aquarium later to save time.

“Besides, the ray had already sustained several injuries before it was moved to the aquarium, which was probably the main reason it had such a poor appetite,” Chang said.

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