NEW YEAR’S EVE PARTIES THREATEN HEALTH OF CAPTIVE DOLPHINS AND SHARKS

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Image from uShaka Marine World

Raving bonkers New Year’s Eve parties threaten health of captive dolphins and sharks at uShaka Marine Park, South Africa

The events, featuring well known DJ’s and dance music, are planned for three separate areas of the park – one in a restaurant which has shark in tanks right next door to diners – and another within only 250 metres (820 feet) of the 11 captive dolphins held at the park.

Animal welfare and other concerned groups and individuals are trying to stop plans for the massive but highly profitable New Year celebrations at uShaka Marine Park, Durban, South Africa because of concerns about the impact of the noise, vibrations and general disturbance that they will have on the dolphins and the sharks.

A petition against the ‘raves’, begun by Durban resident and animal activist, Mia du Plessis, has already gathered almost 9,000 signatures from around the world.

There are also serious concerns about the potential for party goers to interfere with the captive marine animals directly as they did at a techno event in Connyland Marine Park in Switzerland last year, when two dolphins were fed heroin by rave goers which resulted in their death.http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2140362/Connyland-zoo-Two-dead-d….

Advance publicity indicated that Progressive, Tech/House and Trance music would be featured on the deck of the Phantom Ship, which is situated at the centre of the park (see Map); that Commercial, Hip Hop and R&B would be featured in the same venue’s Cargo Hold, which looks directly onto the shark tank; and that Deep and Funky House would be featured on the Phantom Ship. The events are billed to last through the night, starting at 8.30pm and closing at 1.00-2.00am.

While these venues have previously been used for corporate events and private parties, it is the scale of the event planned for New Year’s Eve – and the fact that it is scheduled to take place at the very heart of a marine park – that has alarmed the group of activists opposing the event, which includes representatives from established dolphin, shark, civil society advocacy groups and marine conservation organisations such as Earthrace Conservation as well as individual experts in dolphin and shark behaviour and physiology.

The activists have called on the NSPCA to support their request for the event to be moved to another venue, as the society actively promotes ‘five freedoms’ for animals, including freedom from fear and distress, freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom to be free. The South African NSPCA have refuted claims by the park that they approved of the event (see attached screen shot).

At this time, there are no plans to have NSPCA or any external officials or experts on-site during the event to monitor its impact on the animals. No prior research has been done by the facility into the effect of events such as these on the park’s marine animals.

Those against the events and those on the side of the marine park met on Thursday 27 December to discuss the plans. However, even after the meeting, uShaka Marine Park and the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (who care for the uShaka Sea World animals) still considered the events wouldn’t pose a danger to either the sharks or dolphins and currently there are no plans to cancel it although ‘compromises’ have been made.

These compromises included moving one of the venues from the Phantom Ship to the Moyo Pier, and limiting the music to a level of 95db – that’s the same as a jackhammer 50 feet away, or a subway train at 200 ft. The level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss to humans is 90 – 95dB.

Mia du Plessis, volunteer coordinator for anti-Namibian seal cull group, the Seals of Nam, said, “Dolphins are acoustic creatures, and are very sensitive to sound. Dolphins sense their surroundings using echolocation – a natural sonar – which enables them to locate and discriminate objects by projecting high-frequency sound waves and then listening for echoes as the sound waves reflect off objects – or concrete walls, as is the case with dolphins in captivity.

“This natural sonar is so precise it can determine the difference between a golf ball and a ping-pong ball based solely on density. Although humans have researched echolocation for decades, much of their acoustical world remains a mystery. This also means that we currently have no way of knowing the full effect that the noise generated by an event of such nature has on dolphins.”

What scientists do know is that one of the keys to dolphin echolocation is water’s superb conduction of sound. Sound waves travel through water at a speed of about 1.5km/sec, which is 4.5 times faster than sound travelling through air.

The Cargo Ship at uShaka will house one of the three dance areas. This is also where the shark tanks are located. In fact, event organisers have used this as a selling point.

Eleanor Fox, from Earthrace Conservation South Africa said, “Sharks have all the senses we have (smell, taste, touch, eyesight, and hearing); however, they also possess the ability to sense electricity and vibrations in the water. In fact, sharks may be more sensitive to electric fields than any other animal.

“We also know that sharks are sensitive to low-frequency sounds in particular – frequencies similar to those associated with bass-heavy music.

“In addition, sharks have a mirror-like layer in the back of the eye, much like cats. This layer doubles the intensity of incoming light, enhancing light sensitivity. Even if flash photography is not allowed within the facility, what effect will the event’s light displays have on uShaka’s sharks?”

During the meeting with activists opposed to the events, it was reported that Judy Mann, SAAMBR CEO, admitted that the effects of a stressful event are not always seen immediately, and that these might only emerge a few days later. When further questioned as to what precautions have been or would be put in place to limit possible stress to the animals during the event, she advised that nothing in addition to normal operations would be put in place as the SAAMBR was absolutely certain the animals would be safe. She advised that only if and when the animals showed stress would action be taken.

Notes

1. The NSPCA has clearly stated that it is opposed to this event, and has called on the organisers to cancel it. This appears to have been ignored.
2. The delegation at the meeting on 27 December posed a number of specific questions to uShaka management and the SAAMBR, but no responses to these have been received.
3. The scientific information reviewed in the meeting – and referred to in the SAAMBR statement – was generic information related to the way in which marine animals hear. uShaka has not conducted any specific research into the effect of large-scale events such as the planned rave on the marine animals in the park, despite the fact that two dolphins died after a similar event in Switzerland last year.
4. In contrast, group members who are sound specialists are currently engaged in developing a detailed analysis of the impact that sound at the event is likely to have on the animals. They are of the opinion that the organisers have failed to demonstrate in a scientific way that the levels of vibration, noise and light the animals will be subjected to will not be damaging.
5. Activists are concerned about the effect that an event of this nature will have on all marine life in the park, but specifically the effects it will have on cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) and sharks, which have acute senses (see links to further information below). This extends to concerns about both the physical and psychological wellbeing of the animals.
6. Concerns relate specifically to the scale of the event, which will have three staging areas and feature 18 DJs. The nature of the event is fundamentally different to private parties and corporate events previously held in the park.
7. Activists are also concerned that uShaka’s management and the SAAMBR have effectively ignored the significant public outcry against the rave, disregarding the voices of over 7,000 people in favour of an event that will carry ticket prices of up to R1,500.

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