The National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium is at fault for failing to release a whale shark it had kept captive for the past eight years, animal protection groups said yesterday, calling for the museum and its governing body, the Ministry of Education, to re-evaluate its management model.
In March, the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) issued a public call for the museum to release the last whale shark in its aquarium because the creature had grown too large for its tank, and to not bring in new specimens.
After the whale shark was released into the ocean on the morning of July 10, it was found stranded on a nearby shore twice in the following six hours, EAST said yesterday at a press conference it organized along with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) and other civic groups.
Showing a video clip and photographs of the shark when it was stranded, EAST said that although the museum claimed the shark had “swam successfully toward the open ocean” on the third attempt to release it, the shark was already seriously wounded and showed no signs of movement when it was dragged into the sea the final time.
“This is not a case of setting an animal free, but rather abandoning it,” EAST executive director Wu Hung (朱增宏) said.
Wu said the whale shark had been stranded on a gravel beach for three hours and marine specialists found multiple wounds on its body and its pupils were non-responsive.
“The museum should not lie to the public and itself about the failed operation,” he said.
Wu added that since the museum did not carry out appropriate preparations before freeing the whale shark — such as building a release station or conducting behavioral training to ensure the creature could feed itself when it was back in the ocean — and released the animal without a tracker, its chances of survival in the wild were nearly zero.
At the press conference, museum Director-General Wang Wei-hsien (王維賢) admitted the shark had had a “low chance of survival.”
“The failure of the operation was a big blow to us, we felt we had considered all the necessary details and I sincerely regret that we did not anticipate that the animal would swim back to the shore after we released it,” he said.
Lin said that in addition to its inept handling of the release, the museum has not produced any research on whale sharks in the eight years it kept the animal in captivity.
Instead, it allowed a company with a build-operate-transfer contract to earn big profits by attracting visitors to the aquarium to see the shark, and then sloppily got rid of it by “abandoning its body in the sea,” she said.
As the museum’s governing body, the ministry has set a bad example in environmental protection and education, Lin said, adding that she will propose amending related laws to ban the display and keeping of whale sharks.