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Struggling Hong Kong theme park to end dolphin shows

Ocean Park said on Monday that it would replace the daily shows in its main enclosure with underwater viewing opportunities for visitors. But visitors will, for a fee, still be allowed to feed and pose with dolphins in the water.

Hong Kong

A STRUGGLING Hong Kong theme park has said it will end its controversial dolphin and sea lion shows, but will continue to allow visitors to hug a dolphin, a move which has drawn criticism from animal-rights groups.

Ocean Park said on Monday that it would replace the daily shows at its flagship enclosure with "underwater viewing opportunities" for visitors. Park chairman Leo Kung said: "Under the new plan, the Ocean Wonder show will cease."

But the park said it would continue to let paying visitors feed and pose with the dolphins in the water.

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Ocean Park's captive animal shows and dolphin-petting activities have long been criticised by the animal-rights community.

Dolphins suffer physically and mentally from life in captivity, said the Born Free Foundation, which also says on its website that physical interactions with the public are "highly stressful" for the animals.

Jason Baker, vice-president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), said: "Ocean Park's decision to end its dolphin shows but to keep the animals as a tourist gimmick is a missed ethical and financial opportunity."

Hong Kong non-profit organisation Animal Rights Education said in a Facebook statement that the move was an important step, but urged the park to gradually end marine animal captivity.

The park's annual report lists 7,600 animals in its collection, including 63 marine mammals, 59 terrestrial mammals, 454 birds and others.

The amusement park has suffered an "unprecedented steep decline" in visitors of more than 30 per cent since the pro-democracy protests broke out in the financial hub last summer, South China Morning Post recently reported.

Hong Kong's government is planning to help the park with a HK$10.6 billion (S$1.84 billion) cash injection.

Aside from replacing the Ocean Theatre, the park aims to add 26 rides in its drive to transform itself into an adventure-themed attraction. AFP