The Grandview Aquarium inside a shopping mall in Guangzhou is housing animals in poor living conditions leading to many experiencing poor welfare. But the situation for these animals is not new in China, it does in fact reflect the general situation for many thousands of animals languishing within poorly run, inadequate ocean parks across the country.
Each new ocean park that opens is essentially a replica of the others that already exists. The Grandview aquarium exhibits wild caught beluga whales, a host of fish species many most likely wild caught, a polar bear, arctic wolves, arctic foxes, penguins, walruses, seals, and seabirds all from unknown origins.
Whilst we criticise Grandview for adding to this we must remember that there are another 40 plus parks operating across China using the same blueprint.
All of these have developed out of commercial interests rather than a desire to conserve and educate the public about the dangers that many of these animals face in wild. In truth the very existence of the ocean parks is in fact one of the many threats that these animals face, the ever increasing demand for beluga whales, and dolphins fuelling the capture of these magnificent animals from their ocean homes, and removing them from their stable social family groups.
Grandview stands out for two reasons. Firstly, it is located within a shopping mall, this is a new and increasing trend within China and does in fact make little difference to the animals themselves as the majority are languishing within indoor facilities of the same nature as those at Grandview. The shopping mall aquarium concept is a commercial success, why not take the animals and place them inside some of the busiest public centres in the country. From a business perspective this makes perfect sense. But shopping malls by their very nature present an artificial world to the general public full of marketing tricks designed to make us buy the newest and latest gadgets. This therefore risks turning the animals themselves into commodities, with the public viewing them much as they would view the gadgets and clothes they have come to see through the shop window, rather than as the sentient, emotionally driven individuals that they are.
In contrast to this, the second reason that Grandview stands out from the other ocean parks, is because they have reached out and asked for help and advice on how to improve the welfare of the animals they exhibit. Of course our overarching advice is that none of these animals can be happily housed within the conditions that they offer, but removing the animals and closing the doors to the aquarium is at this stage an unrealistic goal. Many of the Grandview people that I have met are working directly with the animals and they do care about them as individuals. The problem is that they have little knowledge on their true nature, and their emotional and cognitive capabilities, and little experience on how to meet their complex physical and behavioural needs. But they are willing to listen and they want to learn and improve.
By building that relationship we hope that we can convince many within Grandview that due to the complex needs and rich emotional lives of the animals they exhibit, it is not possible to provide them with good welfare within the conditions that they offer. We believe our influence can reach beyond Grandview to help the many other animals caught in this way and push to end their suffering.
In the meantime we will do everything we can to improve their circumstances.
Coupled with this we continue our public awareness work to raise the public's consciousness about the needs of captive wild animals in the hope that as we have seen in other countries, we can turn the tide on the ocean park industry by using the one commercial aspect that none of the parks can overcome, their need for visitors.