When Bajan Reporter blog “scooped” the story last week which revealed that marine life at the island’s lone marine park is dying at a high rate, the news travelled like a cat on a hot tin roof. Barbadians are not known to be animal friendly but as a tourist destination the goings on at the Ocean Park has stretched beyond the insensitivity of the locals. Mr. Mitchel Hird, Head Curator at Ocean Park, obviously felt moved by the Bajan Reporter report to respond in a long and detailed explanation which was published by several blogs.
Barbados Underground received evidence which confirms the original report that the mortality rate of occupants (marine life) at Ocean Park is too high. Despite Mr. Hird’s detailed response to the Bajan Reporter story, BU in light of further information coming to hand suggests to Mr. Hird that he needs to give another response to satisfy many unanswered questions concerning the management of the marine life at Ocean Park.
Mr. Hird has managed to do a dance all around the facts – Ocean Park is accused of having high mortality rates. Fish are said to be dying on “an almost daily basis”; three spotted eagle rays have died at the park; a number of octopuses have died, on one day there were 78 deaths in a tank, on another, 44; water quality tests haven’t been carried out for the year; fish have jumped out of the aquariums; the compost heap is a few months old; real mangroves have been used for decoration in the Shoreline Discovery Pod etc.
Mr. Hird should release past mortality reports showing that they are in fact “very low”, reports showing that water quality testing has, actually, been done this year and he should invite members of the press to see that the mangroves in the Shoreline Discovery pod are really artificial and that the compost heap is more than just a few months old. This would clarify any misunderstandings.
Our direct response to Mr. Hird’s (Head Curator of Ocean Park) reply to the Bajan Reporter story is quoted below (quotes in blue are extracts from Mr. Hird’s original reply).
- When was this so-called “one of the best-equipped aquarium laboratories for our size in the world” built… this year wasn’t it? When did Ocean Park open its doors again – the 4th of June, 2005?
“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.” The truth is that a large proportion of the fish at Ocean Park are caught by a young man who is paid to do so (a number of people will testify to this fact). Ocean Park “works with” the local fishermen when they want larger fish like the eagle rays and sharks and Mr. Hird (Head Curator at Ocean Park and qualified marine biologist) knows this. If Mr. Hird cared at all for the fish caught to be placed on display, he would use trained professionals.
“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.” Does this address the fact that a number of tarpon (fish that grow to eight feet and several hundred pounds in weight) were kept again sardined in two tanks in the Quarantine (and Sea Rescue?) area from the 10th of May 2007 to the beginning of July? And Mr. Hird might agree that even a large aquarium may seem more “spacious” if it has two fish in it as opposed to 500. With respect to the welfare of the fish being “placed above all else”, we take it that all of the tanks in the quarantine area have been covered then? With the best and most current drug therapies, why such high mortality rates?
“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.” We never disputed the amount spent on food per year, what was stated was that people are allowed to buy fish food for a dollar and as a result the fish are overfed (it doesn’t take a professional to see the swollen bellies of the koi). The eagle rays are fed squid on a daily basis at Ocean Park (which they don’t eat in the wild) not clams. On occasion, usually in the beginning of their incarceration at the park, as Bajan Reporter reported, the stress of capture and transport means that marine fish won’t eat and that’s when the eagle rays are fed clams. Again, do next-generation gel diets and tailor-made vitamin supplements explain high mortality rates?
“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.” Interesting explanation, almost sounds like Mr. Hird was there to witness it! So… were any fish missing from that display out of which someone was attempting “to catch and steal fish”? It is strange that they didn’t take the Giant Gouramy and just left it there on the grass to die. Maybe if the tank were covered the robber would have found it a bit more difficult to get at the fish. Was the robber there dragging the net through the display on the 6th of July when the Japanese koi jumped out or on the 9th of May, 2007, when a juvenile Parrot Fish jumped out of tank 11 or on the 27th of the same month when a Blue Tang jumped out of the Touch Pool display? What about on the 10th of December, 2006, when one Cownose Ray jumped out of the Reef Tank display?
“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!” Again, we are a little confused – was the Gouramy a rescued animal or was it donated? And does the fact that the Gouramy was kept in a barrel for 2 years justify the fact that it jumped out of a tank which should have been covered? Shame on you Mr. Hird!
“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.” Our article doesn’t mention live coral. It does mention coral NOW DEAD that was harvested from the ocean (or maybe picked up on the beach on a Sunday) and real red mangroves with fake foliage embedded in them.
“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 (sic).” The shark story is the official story given to visitors to the park – it was actually injured on capture and the amount of water the tank holds sounds impressive but the size of the tank isn’t.
“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.”Thank you for making my point so clearly Mr. Hird – so much for “in keeping with our Conservation statement “to raise awareness of coral reef habitats to increase understanding of the threats they face in the wild” Ocean Park has committed to an annual art competition with themes focused on coral reefs and marine conservation.” Ocean Park’s commitment went out the door (or to the workshop for use as a splash guard for a painting project) when the space used to display the children’s artwork was remodelled to attract more visitors.
- “We 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 Barbados” Although we are against keeping marine life in captivity, we suggest that your first priority be that of focusing on the safe capture and transport of the fish to the park. Adopting a system that assures that protocol is adhered to with respect to keeping new arrivals in quarantine, as opposed to putting them directly into displays for the sake of attracting more people to the park sooner, should also be equally important, as should covering the tanks! In essence, keeping the fish at the park alive before spreading yourself thin in the name of marketing Ocean Park.
“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.” So what Mr. Hird is saying is that the mode of wild dolphin capture is untrue? Or is it that Japanese dolphin hunts aren’t bloody? Or is he perhaps suggesting that keeping dolphins in captivity for entertainment purposes under guise of protection and education is acceptable?
“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.”Are the dates of the deaths of marine organisms at Ocean Park or the deaths themselves fabricated? The facts were, actually, so well researched that we dare Mr. Hird to release mortality reports to the general public to prove just how “very low” they are.
“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.” Working with live animals should dictate that a responsible environmental attitude and strong ethics are always present but, as we have said before “under guise of commitment to protecting the environment” (remember the sign used as a splash guard?), with emphasis on marine wildlife, Ocean Park is in fact, “systematically destroying it in an attempt to become another successful money making venture.”
Our source of the information which has facilitated the probe into the activities at Ocean Park is not motivated by malice. The fight is for the animals which are the helpless ones in the face of inept management. We hope that after coming under the microscope of the public, the management at Ocean Park will move quickly to implement best practices to ensure that the welfare of the marine life is efficiently managed. If there is any hesitance to believe that we are not in possession of the evidence to support our claim, we regretfully have to write that the mortality reports make for unhappy reading.
What Is happening To The Wild Life At Our Lone Ocean Park?
Ocean Park Head Curator Refutes Accusation Of Abuse Of Marine Life Making The Rounds In The Blogosphere
so who is telling the truth?
Sounds to me like the original accusation only had the facts partially right. There may be bad things going on at the marine park but this particular accusation has lost some credibility in my eyes. Their responses don’t give numbers or any new evidence and in the absence of any such I’d be more inclined to believe the park – particularly since the writer states above that they are “against keeping marine life in captivity”. Show me mortality rates vs. equivalent international aquariums and I’ll be first on the picket lines…
Forgive me James but what you said doesn’t make a lot of sense. First of all the writer isn’t responding to anything, he seems to be asking questions in an attempt to clarify Ocean Park’s response to the original article. Secondly, what new evidence do you need – did you even read the first article? Ocean Park responded to one of his numerous claims about the deaths of the fish at the Park and that was to say that a robber tried to steal fish from the Gourami tank and it jumped out! Short of a police report, I won’t believe that story anyway since Ocean Park’s entire response seemed to be a typical, purely cosmetic, Barbadian corporate response to criticism. And thirdly, from what I understand, the writer is “against keeping marine life in captivity” but since he must realise that his position doesn’t carry much weight and the fish will continue to be kept in captivity despite what he feels about it, he’s offering suggestions in an attempt to have less fish die at the park. Maybe I’ve been on-line reading for too long but “show me mortality rates vs. equivalent international aquariums” doesn’t make any sense to me. So when we getting together to make the picketing signs?
I have friends at Ocean Park and the things that have been going on there since the first article appeared on The Bajan Reporter’s blog makes me believe every word of that expose. If Ocean Park were in fact innocent why then would they find it necessary to hold a general meeting stating that someone in the organization was leaking information? Why would a list be made up of people who are no longer allowed on the premises of the park? And why would the employees’ personal calls be disallowed (even although humans have a bad tendency to, at the end of any given day, remember what has transpired during that day especially when that includes the death of 8 southern sting rays)? I’ve also heard talk of a confidentiality clause which workers will now be required to sign. What Ocean Park really needs to do is to invest in brain washing techniques and lie detector tests for the employees so that they can root out the ones who have the type of conscience that makes them willing to tell the truth about what’s really been going on at the park.
We agree that there are enough unexplained activities at the Ocean Park to warrant an investigation. To satisfy James we have provided links one two three to copies of mortality reports and we can assure everyone that there are many more reports which we have been supplied to demonstrate that we cannot ignore the events at the marine park.
Exactly what I wanted to see. I have no marine experience and therefore no idea whether these reports show that Ocean Park is in bad or good shape. Still, logically speaking the numbers on them suggest that there needs to be an investigation. I wonder if Mr. Hird can explain…
I think that the problems Ocean Park has with respect to taking care of the fish stems from obvious managerial problems. If you ask the right questions to those who’re not afraid to speak out (with the measures recently taken at the Park, there are sure to be very few), you’ll find out that the supervisor, for the last year, of the aquarists in the area directly responsible for the general welfare of the animals at the park, (“Personality” from the original article), is actually a qualified masseur with no background in biology – since he became supervisor, at least five people have either been fired or have left Ocean Park.
As for the Operations/HR/Sales and Marketing manager, I think that having a list of over 10 ex-employees that are no longer allowed to enter the park as guests, reflects on the fact that this Operations/HR/Sales and Marketing manager has also had no experience in the respective areas. Without questioning the ability to be all three of those things at the same time, I’m not even sure what the intention of prohibiting a number of people from entering the Park is– are the problems at the Park so obvious (for those who know what to look for) that ex-employees with a potential axe to grind are no longer allowed entry? Are there so many ex-employees with an axe to grind? Or is it simply an act of revenge against someone who may have spilt the beans? Again, are there so many people who are disloyal to the company? Or better yet, is there so much motivation for disloyalty?
Whatever the case, it reeks of fascism and there are sure to be some innocents (yours truly included) who now, due to this bad decision, won’t either be able to naively enjoy the exhibits at the park or report discrepancies in this free press arena. Since I’m sure that, with all the criticism, Ocean Park has been making superficial, short-term changes to prepare itself for a visit from the press, I ask, “Who will step up to the plate and hold Ocean Park accountable over a period of time?”
Fishermen are paid to catch the sharks and eagle rays (hundreds of dollars) so that all the talk about working with fishermen attempting to make it seem as though Mr. Hird takes fish off their hands that would be destined to die, is crap. The boy who does the fishing for Mr. Hird is Johnathan Ince.
It may also be interesting to note that two volunteers have left and another aquarist is in the process of leaving the park. – Mr. Hird isn’t interested in simple suggestions with respect to keeping the marine life at the park alive. Ocean Park even had sea eggs at one point but got rid of them after staff insisted that it was illegal to keep them.
The water recycling is also a farce – if you ask anyone who works at Ocean Park you’ll find out that there is often no fresh water at the park. Water isn’t recycled.
Brittle stars in the Touch Pool that should be replaced on a weekly basis aren’t and cleaning out the dismembered arms and dead bodies from the Touch Pool is on a daily ‘to do’ list.
There was also a crack in the bottom pond (there are two fresh water ponds) which meant that it no longer held as much water as it should. This meant that the fish were kept in an even smaller space than they should have been.
Here is a question for all of you former or current employees on the blog. Who owns Ocean Park and why would they invest millions to let inept management pull the operation down?
What are we missing!
To answer your question James with respect to the mortality reports being good or bad… I believe that the temptation will be to compare Ocean Park’s mortality rates with and you said, “equivalent international aquariums” but there are a few problems with that approach. Firstly, in larger countries the aquarium parks are generally much bigger which could either mean that mortalities are greater because of the greater numbers of fish kept or, because there are a number of well established organizations there which fight for the wellbeing of animals, much lower. Secondly, as you can well imagine, aquariums don’t readily want to let anyone know that the animals they are supposed to be taking care of are dying – so getting that information is complicated. (Good work Barbados Underground!)
I think that maybe a comparison between the number of fish arriving at the park and the number of those fish which have arrived that die might be a good indicator, but who’s to say that one death in captivity isn’t a bad thing when you consider that, even although fish die in the wild for various reasons (we even catch them for food), there is a balance which should be respected. The death of 8 sting rays at Ocean Park at the beginning of August due to human error is a good example of a disruption of that balance since, although Ms. Dass… sorry, Mr. Hird, said in his reply to the article that, “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,” no one I know eats southern sting rays and it is highly unlikely that 8 sting rays were an “accidental catch”.
Now, unlike the writer of the first article, I think that fish (and I could be wrong) aren’t intelligent enough to find captivity stressful given a large enough space, the right tank mates and good food, but conditions have got to be such that they survive even better in captivity since there should be no predators and, well, that’s supposedly the mission of aquarium parks – to protect the animals they keep.
The problem I suspect is that arrivals of fish may be more difficult to document than deaths since they probably arrive in bulk but die in fewer numbers over a period of time. I only hope that Ocean Park has been taking the time to document the arrivals.
Honestly,I think some people need to keep their mouths shut about aspects of the park.If you dont no the full story be silent.Whistleblower who sounds like an ex employee didnt seem to be around long enough to learn about the park.For the record water is recycled.No fresh water being at the park has absolutely nothing to do with water not being recycled. The unprofessional way in which this person approaches this situation vexes me. What is the relavance of the past staff leaving in this article without mentioning the reasons(do you even know y?).To me it seems this person is just looking for negatives to focus on.Dont come mentioning totally irrelevant crap.some crap that you dont even know about.This person in my opinion is very inconsiderate and doesnt know the effect his actions has had on others.That’s all i have to say.
Bogle, I also thought that that comment by whistleblower seemed a little angry but I think it’s interesting that his water recycling comment was the only thing you had to refute (I thought Whistleblower reasons for the staff leaving were because ‘Mr. Hird isn’t interested in simple suggestions with respect to keeping the marine life at the park alive’).
so wat who cares
I am sick of this. The compost heap is a few months old and the judges for the awards were aware of this. The pile is broken down by nitrogen rich fish poop scraped from the bottom of the fresh water ponds. And because of this the pile decomposition has been accelerated. We recycle the entire backwash from the fresh water display and feed it using gravity over 500 meters into the mini golf ponds. The Koi are not fat. The food dispenser takes a week to empty (less than 1Lb). The staff is well trained and some of the nicest and most dedicated people I know. They do care about their jobs and the parks inhabitants. Whether or not you agree with keeping animas in captivity the fact is that zoos do exist. Any mortality rates or spread sheets or even bar stock lists are the property of the company. Do you not understand that concept? Fish do die at the park, yes. Every fish that comes into the park has been paid for and it is in the parks best interest tokeep them alive. The staff do a good job at this. Not just because they are living animals but because it is a business. Every day I give people reasons to love the ocean and like the other employees I don’t get paid a lot to do it. It is because like you, I too have a respect for our marine environment. I think that whistle blower needs to move on and find another job. You are making good people look bad.
This story started out last week as a somewhat credible critique, so I was surprised to hear from the Ocean Park biologist. But what he wrote actually seemed very reasonable. This latest piece portrayed itself as being new information against the park, but is really just the same stuff as before and it smacks of sour grapes. Combined with the the awful notes left by various ‘interested parties,’ who are obviously former staff with an axe to grind, this has turned into a real dissapointment. I must admit I had never really been interested in visiting Ocean Park as I prefer to see my wildlife wild. But Ocean Park seems to have come out of this with at least some dignity. I can’t say the same for the gossipy postings found here or the journalist who seems to have been taken along for the ride. Rubbish.
I agree with you Nancy, please leave two complimentaries in my name at the front desk.
It amazes BU that issues have been placed in the public domain regarding inefficient management practices at the marine park and instead of pushing for the authorities to investigate to have the accusations addressed some people are happy to glibly resign to the idea that marine life is dying, so what!
I agree with jason some ppl need to just move on to other jobs. I as a former worker will always respect jason. He is the epitame of a staff member that cares about the ocean and would stop at nothing to educate the public about the oceans wonderful glories. This article has become a bit too radical. The place has taught me alot. I cant stand to see the organisation bashed this way.And michael i can tell u that is not y they left.i am one of those volunteers.And that isnt close to the reason y.
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!
A BU source has advised that the Coastal and Fisheries Divisions will be investigating recent negative reports at the Ocean Park. What we want to ask Mr. Hird and the many Ocean Park supporters is why was the Eagle Ray which was spotted on the South Coast captured by the Ocean Park and placed in captivity? The more pertinent question is why the authorities are not prosecuting this matter given the fact that the Ocean Park under the Fisheries Act is restricted in the type of marine life it should maintain at the park.
Why are Barbadians so nonchalant when it comes to fighting for the rights of animals? In fact we know the answer; they don’t even fight for human rights so who cares about the animals.
Hers is a link which mentions the Eagle Ray spotted of the South Coast of Barbados.
A little info on dolphin training:
With everything that has been going on, especially with respect to the apartment collapse in Britton’s Hill, I guess that this issue has taken a backseat. I’d still like to know what the results of that Coastal and Fisheries Divisions investigation were.
Michael~interestingly we posted this update yesterday on one of the many topics which highlighted the issue.
I know its a little late but I have only just seen this blog. I volunteered at the aquarium at its inaugeration and roughly six months after that. I can testify that every single accusation against the park was true at that time. within 6 months of it opening, the only fish that was still alive from the opening was the nurse shark. roughly 500 fish (rough estimate) were removed from the tanks due to some problem or other. there was a period where there were several small nurse sharks in the ray pool, people started asking about the “holes” in the rays. There holes were not the result of being caught but by the sharks that were trying to EAT them and the rays could not escape.
as for the methods of catching them, the park purchased several fish traps which were harversted every few weeks. these traps would catch pretty much anything, but this is common practise in b’dos. a fish pot does not discriminate and fisherman pulling up a fish pot will kill everything inside. even if they release it immediatley. even fish get the “bends”. The thing was, nobody at the time cared. barbados was so happy to have an aquarium that all this was ignored. did you never wonder why there were no turtles at the park? it was because outside of sharks, the park could not keep anything alive. but the real story is the way we bajans fish, no rules, no regulations and any fish regardless of size is fair game. is it any wonder why there are hardly any fish? fish stocks in barbados are down 90%. ask any local biologist. on no, wait, go see for yourself as that is the only way you will get an honest answer.
let me add in an edit, when i said 500 fish, that was a rough estimate per week. when you consider the aquarium had between 500 and 1000 fish it should give some idea of the scale of death