Ocean Park Head Curator Refutes Accusation Of Abuse Of Marine Life Making The Rounds In The Blogosphere
Addressed to Bajan Reporter blog:
It was with no small measure of surprise and disbelief that I read your article “Barbadian Marine Habitat Under Fire….”I am the Head Curator at Ocean Park. I have worked for the last 14 years in Public Aquariums around the world and am a qualified marine biologist. Public aquariums are a powerful tool in the fight to conserve marine life and to educate the public, acting as centers for research and conservation. In the two years since opening, more than 20,000 local students have visited Ocean Park to learn about the island’s natural marine heritage. The readers of Bajan Reporter might reasonably ask why they have been confronted with an apparent litany of damning accusations about Ocean Park. I will address these accusations below before discussing the motive.
- Mortality rates: Contrary to the article, losses at Ocean Park for display animals are very low. This is not by accident. We invest in an extensive staff, purpose-built filtration and what is, in my opinion, one of the best- equipped aquarium laboratories for our size in the world. We have a specialist consultant veterinary company under contract that is flown over on a regular basis; and still further specialist support from world- leading diagnostic laboratories in London. A large proportion of the fish you will see at Ocean Park are caught by local fisherman. They are either destined to be sold at the fish market or are the accidental by-catch of modern fishing methods and will be thrown away dead or used as bait. We work with local fisherman to preserve these otherwise doomed fish. Due to the fishing methods used for catching food fish, we are occasionally presented with fish that are simply too badly damaged to survive.
- Quarantine/ Sea Rescue: The article mentions fish being held in “crowded and confined conditions.” Our quarantine is spacious and state of the art. Animals are medicated with the best and most current drug therapies and their welfare is placed above all else.
- Nutrition: The article refers to animals being poorly nourished. Ocean Park’s budget for food is in excess of $50,000 a year. We import well over 20 different types of food from all over the world. In point of fact, the clams we feed our new eagle rays are the same as those you’ll find on your plate at Sandy Lane! We are one of only a handful of public aquariums in the world using next-generation gel diets and tailor-made vitamin supplements.
- Jumping fish: The large Gouramy that was found dead was the result of a break-in, during which someone attempted to catch and steal fish from the displays. The commotion caused by the nets being dragged through the displays caused the fish to jump. Security has since been further improved. Out of interest, the giant Gouramy was in fact a rescued animal, donated by a gentleman in Bridgetown who had kept the fish in a barrel for the last 2 years!
- Decoration: The theming materials you will see around the park, such as the artificial coral, wood and fake foliage were bought and installed by a specialist theming company from Europe. Contrary to the article, we have absolutely no live coral on site.
- Injured animals: The photographs of the injured rays suggest that the animals were injured at Ocean Park. The animal in question-a spotted eagle ray-was caught by local fishermen and was destined for Oistins Fish Market. The ray had been bitten on the flank by a shark or other predatory animal, prior to being caught. The spotted eagle ray was medicated and rehabilitated from its wound, which in the wild, would likely lead to its death. The ray now inhabits a lagoon-themed display that holds almost a quarter of a million liters.
- Conservation statement: Within “Barbadian Marine Habitat Under Fire,” there is a picture of an old conservation sign. This sign is clearly not on display. It is actually in our workshop being used as a splash guard for a painting project-note the paint pots behind. This sign was taken down almost a year ago. It is a fact that Ocean Park is involved in numerous environmental projects, which merit its receipt of this year’s Environmental Excellence Award, presented at the independently-judged Barbados Tourism Awards. Some examples of these projects include:
- Tilapia farming trial aimed at reducing the pressure on local fisheries
- Water recycling
- “Clean-Up” Barbados Project
- Various smaller initiatives aimed at enhancing environmental education and reducing the park’s impact on natural resourcesWe have also been working for some months now on two new projects which are expected to yield important results in the coming year. These being:
- Collaborative scientific study with Oxford University on blood iodine levels in wild and captive sharks
- Participation in an international, interdisciplinary research project into endangered fish species around Barbados8. Dolphins: The comments made by the author regarding Ocean Park’s plans for an interactive dolphin exhibit are ill-informed and misleading. This type of misinformation does nothing to further the cause of conservation. Instead it tarnishes the efforts of the new generation of marine mammal exhibitions that seek to protect and educate. Comments linking the collection of Dolphins for public aquariums as “reminiscent of the capture of slaves” whilst suggesting a connection with bloody Japanese Dolphin hunts are aimed at pandering to the fears of readers rather than having any factual merit.
It is disturbing to me that an individual would go to such lengths to spread such ill informed, malicious and, I would suggest, libelous accusations about Ocean Park. One wonders what would motivate an individual in this direction. Professional and personal ethics guide me to refrain from pointing the finger in this reply. I will simply state that Ocean Park has been the target of several destructive incidents and actions in the recent past. These combined with the accusations made by the articles source suggest internal knowledge of the Park, as well as a vindictive motive possibly stemming from prior dismissal. We are seeking advice from our solicitors in this regard.
I am surprised that the author of the article did not choose to question the motives or qualifications of his or her source. I would have expected that Ocean Park would have been contacted and given an opportunity to respond. If the author of “Barbadian Marine Habitat Under Fire” had put as much effort in to researching facts as he or she did into producing a story replete with fabrications and deceptive pseudoscience, perhaps the article would have read differently. I would suggest that the next time a story drops like “manna from the sky,” the Bajan Reporter display a helping of journalistic integrity by taking the time to investigate the validity of a source.
Whilst Ocean Park is a business, working with live animals dictates that a responsible environmental attitude and strong ethics are always present. Ocean Park’s doors are open. Visiting members of the public and members of the press have a standing invitation for a guided tour of the behind-the-scenes facilities, after which I hope all concerned would draw their own conclusions.