Ocean Park Head Curator Refutes Accusation Of Abuse Of Marine Life Making The Rounds In The Blogosphere

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Mitchel Hird
Head Curator
Ocean Park

Original Story

What Is happening To The Wild Life At Our Lone Ocean Park?

12 comments

  • Very well written. It is just sad that there are people out there who can just have things posted on a website in black & white that people everywhere will see and in many cases believe without knowing all the facts.

    Even more frightful is that the blogs owners just let people get on an post scandalous accusations about companies and people without knowing all the facts. Usually just their (the posters) one sided take.

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  • Anon~AirBourne is a journalist who has demonstrated responsible reporting in the past. He has clarified in his lated post on this subject that he contacted Ocean Park for comment with little success. He has additional information in his possession which supports his decision to publish the story. Our blog like others have the opportunity to refute or clarify stories published.

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  • Get in the Action

    Interesting that Bourne shifts to addressing dolphins in captivity and avoids ALL of the untruths corrected by Hird in his comments. BU it is still quite a stretch to continue to call him a journalist, when he could not get in his car and see the Park for himself. He claims he tried to contact them – let’s hear the facts Mr. Bourne – who did you try to get and when did this happen. It is stories like this that shows how the internet can be used to tarnish the good reputation of companies and of people, that has taken years to develop. Anyway I think the lawyers will have a field day with this one.

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  • If Bajan Reporter (who I know to be a very good journalist) contacted them for comment but was unsucesssfull,then why the long reply now?
    Unlike the BFP,Bajan Reporter is known and he never tries to hide this.Apart from that ,he also holds a very high profile position at the SSA.Why would he jeopardize this just to be malicious?

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  • Since visiting Barbados earlier this year on vacation, I have been following things there more closely, including reading The Bajan Reporter. I was shocked to read the piece criticizing Ocean Park. We visited there while on vacation and had a great time. We’ve visited lots and lots of aquariums around the world and were impressed with Ocean Park. We thought the displays were well-maintained and the staff was very helpful. Everyone seemed very open to talking about how things are done there, and answering any questions we had. While there, we learned a bit about the rescued animals at the park, and plans for the upcoming dolphin exhibit. I was glad to see that the head curator of the park chose to respond with factual information that countered the piece in The Bajan Reporter. The person who wrote or was the source for that piece seemed to have a lot of inside knowledge of the park, which was suspicious to me. If he person who wrote it really hoped for positive outcomes, posting an unresearched piece online doesn’t seem the way to do it. Instead it comes across as shady and sensationalist.

    I think it’s really important for Barbados to have a marine park that helps to conserve natural resources and educate the island’s residents about their surroundings. I think Ocean Park is trying to be that. I would encourage people to visit for themselves and see that it’s not at all what the smear piece made it out to be.

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  • I saw that Ocean Park story on another blog before it was posted on Bajan Reporter. I cant find the link but it was an english blog with a name which had “space”. So the story is out there. looks like someone with a grudge?

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  • We can confirm that a large scale investigation has been launched into the management of the Ocean Park. We shall see how it develops.

    Anon~can you tell us what makes you an expert on marine matters? You are saying that on the basis of visiting Barbados on vacation you decided to read the Bajan Reporter blog to follow events? Ummmmmmmmmm, ok.

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  • I have noticed that Ms.Dass the big lady at the park has been sounding off on the radio all day doing PR. Is this a case of to defend it is better to attack? she did say that they run a good shop but MISTAKES happen from time to time..ummmmmmmmmm:-)

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  • Pingback: Activities At Barbados; Its Only Marine Park Comes Under Further Scrutiny~Mortality Rate Of The Marine Life Is Just Too High « Barbados Underground

  • Anon, do you believe everything you are shown and are told? Do you think that if fish were dying at the park (and the “unresearched piece” written did cite names of fish, numbers and dates of their deaths) people employed at the park would work that information into conversation (if they had it) when you asked questions? Or were your questions specifically about the mortality rates at the park? I also don’t see how “well-maintained displays” or helpful staff or having a “great time” at Ocean Park has anything to do dying fish.

    It may have more to do with making the Head Curator’s response more factual than the statements made by the writer of the article that has prompted this debate however… or is it the title ‘Head Curator’? Are you sure the article wasn’t written by a marine biologist who had been trying to get Ocean Park’s management to make simple changes to ensure the wellbeing of the fish at the park and that after he’d failed, he resorted to presenting his findings in a public forum? The truth can be dirty and so yes, it does seem to be a “smear piece” indeed!

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  • Mr. Important Title That Makes me Right all the Time

    I agree with you David. Ocean Park’s position seems to be to just keep low, not address any of the issues until everyone is just “sick of this” and dismisses it as “sour grapes”. “Sour grapes” and “axes to grind” don’t change the facts which are slowly but surely being admitted to “fish do die at the park, yes” but again in a very dismissive way. So even although Jason said that “every fish that comes into the park has been paid for and it is in the parks best interest to keep them alive” and “the staff do a good job at this” the facts actually show that mortality rates are high and that staff has actually been responsible on occasion for the deaths of fish at the park (all of the cat sharks and recently all of the southern sting rays in the quarantine area for example).

    [ASIDE] Paying fishermen for fish may only encourage them to catch fish specifically for Ocean Park and since, as Mr. Hird recognized, fishing methods used for catching food fish have resulted in Ocean Park’s being “occasionally presented with fish that are simply too badly damaged to survive.”

    As for understanding the concept that “any mortality rates or spread sheets or even bar stock lists are the property of the company” were it not for the fact that BU has mortality reports in their possession to back up their claims with respect to mortality rates at the park, we’d have more people like Nancy and Bogle (who in spite of the mortality reports) still find it difficult not to blindly believe everything Ocean Park says when it’s pretty obvious that they’ve always had no intention of telling the truth – it was only after finding out that the press had mortality rates that they started to talk about having “made some mistakes” over the years.

    With all due respect, Jason, you don’t work directly in taking care of the animals at the park, and so although I don’t doubt that you care about the ocean and “would stop at nothing to educate the public about the oceans wonderful glories” the mortality rates were probably as surprising to you as they would have been to anyone not working as an aquarist at the park.

    It’s time for us to start talking about accountability – I trust that you should be just as interested as I am in finding an organization willing to help put and keep Ocean Park on track with respect to SOPs and “best practices” so that mortality rates at the park can be better monitored in an attempt to see them dramatically reduced.

    P.S. Isn’t it amazing that none of this has made it into any of the local newspapers! The power of an advertising contract! WOW!

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  • Now that the shit has hit the fan everyone wants to “pass the buck”. OCEAN PARK NEEDED TO TREAT THEIR EMPLOYEES WITH RESPECT, and their closet door would’ve remained closed. I was an employee and I am disappointed at they way we were all being treated and thank God I am better off today. Ocean needs not only to clean up the dead fish but their attitude and leave this black and white thing at the door

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