Death of dolphin at RWS spurs calls to free others

Marine mammal trainers with Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins at Dolphin Island, Marine Life Park, in Resorts World Sentosa on 19 Dec 2013. -- ST FILE PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
Marine mammal trainers with Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins at Dolphin Island, Marine Life Park, in Resorts World Sentosa on 19 Dec 2013. -- ST FILE PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

One of the 24 dolphins kept at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) has died, sparking calls for the others to be released from captivity.

A spokesman for its Marine Life Park confirmed yesterday that the bottlenose dolphin, named Sharmila, died on Sunday. He did not give its age, although bottlenoses typically live between 30 and 50 years.

"Resorts World Sentosa is deeply saddened by the passing of our dolphin Sharmila," said the spokesman. "We are conducting tests to confirm the exact cause of death. Prior medical tests indicated that she was healthy."

The bottlenoses are part of the Dolphin Island attraction which opened last year. It was supposed to have 27 dolphins caught in the Solomon Islands in 2008 and 2009, but three died of bacterial infections before arriving here.

Two died in 2010 while held in Langkawi, and another died in 2012 on the way from the Philippines to Singapore. Animal rights groups have called for the rehabilitation of the remaining dolphins and their release into the wild.

Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) executive director Louis Ng called the latest death "a tragic and needless loss". "We regret that another wild-caught dolphin has died in the care of RWS," he said. "From the start, we alerted RWS that, compared to other species, dolphins do not fare well in captivity.

"Four dolphins have died, when is enough enough?"

He said Acres filmed at least one dolphin swimming in circles last month - "a clear sign the dolphin was suffering from stress".

The Marine Life Park spokesman said: "We are closely monitoring all our animals, and as always, no effort or resources will be spared in ensuring the health and well-being of our dolphins."

A spokesman for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said RWS has informed it about Sharmila's death. Last May, India banned dolphin shows, joining Costa Rica, Hungary and Chile.

zengkun@sph.com.sg