Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) is facing indirect contempt charges in a Philippine court after importing 11 of 27 dolphins purchased from the Philippines. Environmental groups claim RWS imported the marine mammals before the case was fully heard.
It is one of the latest developments in a transaction that has courted years of controversy for RWS. The huge entertainment and casino company has faced criticism since it first purchased 27 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins from the Solomon Islands in 2008 and 2009 for its Marine Life Park facility in Singapore.
After importing 11 of the dolphins last week, RWS, which runs Singapore's first casino plus the Universal Studios theme park, faces another hearing in Quezon City Court on Feb. 15, 2013 after a motion was filed by environmental and animal welfare groups on Nov. 20.
According to Channel News Asia, Earth Island Institute Philippines, Philippine Animal Welfare Society and CARE Welfare Philippines, all contend "that even before and while the court was conducting a hearing on the motion for reconsideration, the respondents including Resorts World Sentosa, had already flown out 11 dolphins from the country."
One of those dolphins 'Wen Wen', died during the flight; he was the third of the original 27 dolphins to have died since they were captured. Two other dolphins died in Oct. 2010 while in holding in Langkawi, Malaysia.
The three dolphin deaths in as many years has only served to level further criticism over an act that Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) said, has contributed to the depletion of the species.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had stated that the import and export of bottlenose dolphins from the Solomon Islands could be detrimental to the survival of the Indo-Pacific dolphin and recommended that transfers of the species should not take place.
Louis Ng, executive director of ACRES, launched a campaign in 2011, called "Save the World's Saddest Dolphins" to raise public awareness over the dolphins' plight. Ng said that a study conducted by the Solomon Islands Government and the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium between 2009 and 2011, only "confirmed IUCN statements" and provided "compelling evidence that past trade in T. aduncus was indeed unsustainable and detrimental to the survival of these populations."
The Worlds Saddest Dolphin campaign released this video called "Pillaging the Solomons" which offered a haunting look inside the trade:
RWS has also been criticized for purchasing dolphins that have been horrifically captured and then held under terrible conditions. This graphic 2009 video uploaded to YouTube by user fgregrereh, shows how dolphin hunts are conducted in the Solomon Islands:
The Saddest Dolphins campaign meanwhile, is querying RWS' ethics after the company announced last Sept. that they adhered to and exceeded the guidelines set by the American Zoo and Aquariums Association (AZAA) and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks Aquariums (AMMPA).
The AMMPA ACRES said, has "stated that it does not support collection of animals from Solomon Island waters," said the campaign, "and that any collections from there to date would not adhere to their standards and guidelines requirements."
RWS also teamed up with Sea Research Foundation last year, which oversees The JASON Project science programs in collaboration with the National Geographic Society.
The Foundation entered into a three-year agreement with the casino to jointly develop a marine environmental curriculum for students in Southeast Asia. Contents of the curriculum were drawn from Sea Research Foundation’s Mystic Aquarium, Connecticut, USA.
According to Mystic Aquarium's press release, "Programs will include travelling teacher experiences that will take place in schools, on-property education programs, and interpretative and hands-on learning experiences." These will be provided by the dolphins captured from the Solomon Islands.
In September 2011, ACRES sent a letter to RWS with 27 pointed questions that appealed to the resort "to make a moral and ethical decision" that benefited the dolphins.
ACRES said the resort should consider the case of Tom and Misha, two bottlenose dolphins successfully released back to the ocean this year after several years in captivity. After extensive rehabilitation, the dolphins were released earlier this year by the Born Free Foundation.
In further news out of the Philippines today, it seems there may be yet more problems on the horizon for the Singapore resort. The Philippine Star is reporting that the same environmental groups contending contempt of court, could also be planning to file charges against the people responsible for the death of Wen Wen.
"We are studying possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act following the death of one of the dolphins,” said lawyer Mel Velasco, counsel of petitioners for Earth Island Institute (EII), Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), and CARA Welfare Philippines."
Trixie Concepcion, EII regional director, added that "Because of their haste to fly the animals out of the country, one dolphin died", and PAWS director Anna Cabrera criticized the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) directly. "BFAR did not conduct a welfare check, a health check of the animals before they left," she told The Star, "they just counted the animals."
Animal activists meanwhile are also not happy that the marine mammals were acquired from the wild purely for entertainment purposes. A petition to free the 'Sentosa 25' has received over 115,000 signatures so far and the social media campaign Fins and Fluke, have issued an urgent call to action in direct support of the World's Saddest Dolphin campaign. The group said it is asking people to directly email Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore, and politely ask them to release the dolphins.
ACRES is planning a candlelight vigil and memorial service in Singapore for Wen Wen next month:
On Sunday (2 December), we will be gathering at the Speaker’s Corner to mourn the loss of the dolphins and to show the world and Resorts World that we in Singapore care, we will not keep quiet, and will continue calling for the remaining 24 dolphins to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild.
Further details are available at this Facebook event page.