China ‘s first performance of killer whales will be targetted by activists who are calling for the shows to be banned, citing animal cruelty.
Chime-Long Ocean Kingdom, a marine park in the coastal city of Zhuhai in Guangdong province, is planning to entice more visitors by acquiring a performing killer whale, also known as an orca whale, which would be the first such show in China.
The activists plan to protest at the park gates, in order to inform the public of the suffering the animals allegedly endure behind the scenes.
Chime-Long Ocean Kingdom told chinadialogue that it did not want to comment on the claims.
Zhou Haixiang, director of Shenyang Ligong University’s Ecology and Environment Research Office, said the marine park has both plenty of money and local government backing, meaning that other performances are likely.
"As soon as there’s one successful killer whale show, other marine parks in China will follow suit,” said Zhou, who is also a member of the China national committee of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme.
David Neale, animal welfare director at Animals Asia, told chinadialogue that killer whales are the most popular of all performing marine animals and audiences will flock to see them.
“The huge profits will tempt more parks to acquire killer whales, meaning the sector will expand and more animals will suffer from their performances.”
Killer whales are one of the main ocean predators, but their large size means they need bigger tanks – and more water when in captivity – than many other marine mammals.
These needs are hard to meet, and keeping a killer whale in captivity is comparable to forcing a person to live in a bathtub, activists claim.
Conservationists say that in nature killer whales are unlikely to attack people, but when kept in captivity they start to see people as targets.
At the SeaWorld park in Orlando, Florida, a killer whale once killed a female trainer, a motivation for the 2013 documentary Blackfish
, which profiled the dark side of the industry.
Untrammeled expansion of China’s marine parks is leading to rapidly increasing demand for animals, activists say. In China’s marine parks, over 250 whales, dolphins and porpoises on are now show that once belonged to the wild.
“And now Japan is doing the same, having seen how much money is being made in China. They’re catching whales to perform, as well as to eat,” says Neale.
On a wider front, Zhou is pressing for a major change in China’s zoos, and for animal parks to focus on conservationism, rather than a reliance on money-spinning entertainment.
“Animal performances make the kids laugh by showing off friendship between humans and animals. But actually the children are being deceived.”
Animals Asia’s documentary
“The Performance” shows the enormous cruelty that animals endure during training for performances at Chinese circuses. Lions and tigers have been declawed and have their teeth removed.
Trainers often repeatedly whip or beat the animals, forcing them to engage in unnatural movements, the documentary claims.
As well as causing huge pain and suffering for the animals, circuses and other animal performances give audiences the wrong message: that the exploitation and mistreatment of animals is acceptable, says Neale.
Escapes of animals from circuses are commonplace, causing deaths, injuries and loss to property.
Many countries prohibit performing animals: Bolivia, Bosnia, Cyprus and Greece have all banned the use of any animal in circus acts. Israel, Holland, Paraguay, Peru and the UK all have bans on the use of wild animals.
In China environmentalists are also opposed to such performances. In 2014 China Central Television announced performing animals would feature on the annual Chinese New Year TV spectacular – but those plans were abandoned due to opposition.
Calls for tighter controls
Government departments such as the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development say some local goverments are failing to properly understand the value of animals, and focus too much on the commercial and tourism benefits of zoos, which are run for profit and use wild animals in performances.
A document issued by the central government in June 2013 on the development of China’s zoos called for an end to animal performances.
Following that, performances at zoos in Nanjing, Chongqing, Kunming, Zhengzhou and Jinan were stopped and late last year 2014 Hangzhou Zoo finally ended its 18-year tradition of animal performances.