Whale sharks may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of us, but this animal has been on our radar for quite some time. When Resorts World Sentosa announced in 2006 that a whale shark would be procured and displayed, the SPCA joined forces with Nature Society (Singapore) and Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) to keep it from happening (read letter here). While the ever popular argument that this was to be done in the name of education and conservation was raised, our collective efforts dispelled this 'myth'.
Getting the word out quickly and succinctly was our first line of defence - we released press statements and sent letters to the major news outlets around Singapore in August 2008, coinciding with International Whale Shark Day. The goal was three-pronged; to alert the public that this was on the horizon, to inform about the negative impact that the removal of these animals has on the environment and to warn that these creatures do not do well in tanks. Citing recent cases of whale shark deaths in internationally standardised enclosures supported our position that they are not suited to captivity. A death of a whale shark at Resorts World Sentosa would be a terrible blot on Singapore's reputation and we did everything we could to drive this point home.
Our first set-back was the response of the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) to our request that licensing be denied on the grounds that the whale sharks welfare would be compromised. The AVA took the position that this animal was considered 'importable' under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as long as Resorts World provided proper care. We reiterated the point that even with 'proper care' whale sharks' welfare would be severely compromised in captivity. Another major concern was that confining them in a man-made tank does not allow for natural migratory behavior.
Undaunted, we kicked-off a 'Say No To Whale Sharks In Captivity' campaign replete with t-shirts* and advertising to raise awareness and garner support for this cause. Fortunately, Singaporean groups were not the only ones fighting for this majestic creature and in March 2009, international organisations Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) joined with local The Green Volunteers, lovesharks.sg, ACRES, Cicada Tree Eco-Place and us to expand the lobbying efforts. A petition against the plan to import whale sharks was set up by lovesharks.sg which resulted in over 11,000 signatures.
We were heartened by the Straits Times announcement just two months later that Resorts World Sentosa had scrapped plans for the whale shark exhibition citing the difficulty in caring for these animals. The formal announcement was forthcoming in November 2009 that Resorts World was submitting new proposals to the relevant authorities, which did not include a whale shark. This decision was met with a resounding sign of collective relief. Although it took around three long years to bring this to pass, we applaud this humane and compassionate move. However laudable it is that the whale shark will not be displayed at Resort Worlds Sentosa, other animals are destined to this fate. Dolphins, mammals caught in the wild and subjected to risky holding and transport procedures, remain in the plans for their Marine Life Park. We oppose the use of dolphins in entertainment and amusement settings and invite you (the same people who helped us force the whale sharks off the table) to join us. When we all speak with one voice, a voice for the vulnerable, it is amazing what we can do!
*A special word of thanks to Saatchi & Saatchi