Dolphin shows: Great fun or immoral and outdated?

Dolphin shows: Great fun or immoral and outdated?

Activists have accused a Hong Kong theme park of "dolphin slavery," but the park says it knows what it is doing
ocean park hong kong
She's in it for the money. What are the dolphins in it for?

The main attraction at Hong Kong's Ocean Park is a dolphin show with an earnest message about humans and animals living in harmony. 

Yet, David Wong of Hong Kong animal rights group Animal Earth says the shows are "detrimental to moral thinking."

"Animal shows distort people's view of animals' natural behavior. The very act of capturing the animals strips people of all respect that they may have for animals."

The organization will participate in a protest on August 26 against "dolphin slavery" at Ocean Park, together with Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society and Animal-Friendly Alliance.

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Watery shows

Ocean Park, Hong Kong's most popular and entirely homegrown theme park, was ranked 11 in a survey of the world's 25 most attended theme parks by the 2011 TEA Global Attractions Attendance Report.

Hong Kong Disneyland ranked at No. 15.

The annual attendance numbers for Ocean Park for the past fiscal year ending July 1, 2012 is more than 7 million, compared to last year's 5.9 million visitors. 

Amongst all its headlining attractions -- such as the North Pole Encounter with walruses, seals and Arctic foxes -- the "Sea Dreams" performance at the Ocean Theatre is Ocean Park's most classic. 

The signature dolphin show plays four times a day. In the summer peak season, that's increased to six times a day. 

The temporary arrangement lasts for several weeks. This summer it sparked an anti-dolphin show campaign by local animal rights groups.

With "No Dolphin Slavery!" as their slogan, campaigners want the public to be able to monitor the treatment of dolphins to ensure the marine mammals are respected.

But Ocean Park insists they know what they are doing. 

Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman told local media that dolphins are happy and healthy and capable of performing three 15-minute shows a day. He is "sad, angry and humiliated" at the backlash, he said.

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ocean park hong kongBut does the dolphin love you back?

The park also says it is the only facility outside of North America to have received accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and that they are audited by the AZA as well as the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.

Out of Ocean Park's 60 husbandry and veterinary staff, 29 are exclusively dedicated to dolphins. 

Animal rights groups think the park is missing the point completely.

"The business model of exploiting captive animals for fun and profit is one of the most morally inferior human activities. We have an ultimate goal of zero captive animals for entertaining humans," says Wong.

And the idea that dolphin shows help to educate the public about animals doesn't convince him.

In fact, Wong predicts that theme parks will need to change their business models in order to stay relevant.  

"Captivity may be the only option in the past, but now we have technological options to pursue our change in attitude towards animals," says Wong.

The activist envisions a future Ocean Park that floats on open waters, bringing tourists out to nature rather than "bringing dolphins into prison."

Or a sonic communication device for people on land to interact with dolphins at sea.

Fancy a live chat with dolphins, anyone? 

Have you seen a dolphin show? What did you think of it? Do you think theme parks should stop presenting animals in captivity?

After traveling around the world on a fistful of dollars, Zoe returns to Hong Kong, where she grew up, to discover and write about all the inspiring stuff that happens here on a daily basis.

Read more about Zoe Li