Aquarium plans to import Beluga whales

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A Chinese aquarium is hitting the headlines again over controversial plans to import Beluga whales into their aquarium from the wild.

The Aqua Park 'super aquarium' feature at Ocean Park in Hong Kong first came to conservationists' attention last year when they considered importing wild Bottlenose dolphins from the Solomon Islands. They now plan to import the wild-caught whales from the Russian Arctic (Okhotsk Sea) for their new Polar Adventure attraction.

Suzanne Gendron, the park's executive director for zoological operations and education, said that the Ocean Park Corporation has already given almost $6m over the past four years to fund research into the sustainability of Beluga whale populations in the Russian waters.

Unsurprisingly, the study found that the population, while listed as 'near threatened' on the IUCN website, has a population sufficient to allow wild capture of the whales to be imported to Hong Kong for 2012.

The park was keen to stress that an independent review panel would be convened to confirm any sustainability findings before a transfer took place.

The aquarium was the scene of a protest earlier this year when members of the environmentalist group Green sense claimed that Ocean Park was importing endangered species.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society state on their website: "WDCS opposes these captures because they are inhumane and unsustainable. There is not sufficient research that proves that taking Belugas out of the wild will not have significant negative effects on those populations. WDCS believes that these animals should be left in the wild and not taken to live rest of their lives in tanks to entertain people."

The aquarium, which has three stories and stocks over 5,000 fish of 400 species, opened in January this year amid a storm of controversy after it was claimed that 10 of the 80 endangered Bluefin tuna they imported died en route from Japan.

When asked about the deaths, Ocean Park’s Chairman Allen Zeman is quoted saying: "It’s quite normal… people die and babies are born every day. Fish die and are born.

"The aquarium in Japan told us the tuna we got, which were caught by a reputable fisherman, were meant to be sushi. We actually saved them as they would have wound up being sushi in a restaurant."

The Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society also claim that 10 of 40 Hammerhead sharks imported died due to overcrowding in a quarantine pool. Aqua City deny this claim.