Ocean Park has said it will axe its Ocean Wonders live dolphin show following years of pressure from activists. On Monday, the amusement park announced a HK$10.6 billion redevelopment plan – funded by the government – to revamp its facilities.
Visitor figures have dropped from 7.7 million in 2012-13 to an estimated 3.3 million in 2019-20. The park has been recording a loss for the past five years and is expected to see a HK$600 million cash deficit in 2019-20.
Under the new blueprint, the 20-minute Ocean Wonders show whereby sea animals perform for spectators at Ocean Theatre would be scrapped. Instead, a new exhibit will provide a multi-species environment for marine mammals that visitors can view underwater.
“Dolphins will continue to inspire our guests to help protect the oceans and marine ecosystems through up-close observations, educational presentations and interactive programmes themed around marine conservation,” Ocean Park chair Leo Kung said, without elaborating.
The park later told HKFP that the marine mammals – including dolphins – will be moved to a new exhibit at Explorer’s Wharf scheduled to be ready in 2023-24.
A spokesperson said that visitors will still be able to pay to feed and pose with dolphins as part of the Dolphin Encounter and Meet the Dolphin programmes: “Interactions are a proven way to engage the urban population to connect with animals, their wild counterparts and their ecosystems,” the spokesperson said.
Ocean Theatre will be converted into a new multiple-purpose performance venue in 2026-27.
‘A small progressive step’
The show has come under fire for years with animal rights groups accusing Ocean Park of causing stress for dolphins and not allowing them to live freely.
Lawmaker Claudia Mo, who campaigned on the issue, told HKFP that she welcomed the news: “We won a small progressive step. But we are still wary that Ocean Park has not promised [to halt] buying ocean animals – in particular dolphins – from elsewhere to keep them in captivity for display.”
Pro-democracy lawmaker @ClaudiaMCMo has urged @ocean_park to clean up its act over its use of live animals before it receives more public funds: "You can’t be talking about conservation and use dolphins and other animals as money tools," she said on Facebook last week. pic.twitter.com/RE7mIewEr2
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) January 13, 2020
Jason Baker – vice-president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – told AFP that “Ocean Park’s decision to end its dolphin shows but to keep the animals as a tourist gimmick is a missed ethical and financial opportunity.”
Meanwhile, activist Roni Wong of Dolphin Family – a group opposed to dolphin captivity and cruelty – told HKFP that he also welcomed the cancellation of the show, but was concerned about the future of the sea mammals: “[W]e do not know… what type of transformed show would be performed by the dolphins. As far as I know, there would be an experimental zone for the kids to play with the dolphins. We are still worried about that the kids will pat the dolphins’ heads, maybe swim with them, or touch their tails, bodies,” he said.
Wong said he opposed the funding proposal unless Ocean Park gave a timetable for terminating the dolphin theatre and animal zones and improve its transparency.
He said the park should reveal any deaths of animals inside the park within 24 hours, explain the reason for any deaths within seven days, and provide medical reports within 21 days.