SINGAPORE - Underwater World Singapore will be closing after 25 years, it announced on Monday (June 6), as the lease for the premises at Sentosa expires in less than two years.
The early closure of the oceanarium on June 26, before its lease is up, is to facilitate the transfer of the marine creatures, said a spokesman from Underwater World.
The announcement, though sudden, did not come as a total surprise to industry experts who pointed out that the attraction has faced keen competition from the new Marine Life Park and Universal Studios theme park, which are also located on Sentosa.
The oceanarium, run by Haw Par Corporation, has found a new home for its vulnerable or endangered marine animals.
"After nearly a year reviewing suitable facilities, we found a home for our pink dolphins, fur seals and otters," a Haw Par spokesman said.
They were moved to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, China, one of the largest marine parks in the world, on Sunday (June 5).
Chimelong was chosen as the Pearl River Estuary near Zhuhai is one of the main habitats of the pink dolphins, also known as the Chinese white dolphin.
The dolphins are classified as an vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and are a key protected species in China.
"It is hoped that that the breeding success and research at Underwater World can be continued at Chimelong," the spokesman said.
She added that the animals were accompanied by specialists from Chimelong as they journeyed to China, and scientific data about the mammals were transferred.
However, the other marine creatures are still looking for a place to stay.
"We continue our search for suitable homes for our other animals with care in ensuring their continued survival and well-being," the spokesman told The Straits Times.
There does not seem to be plans for the site for now.
Sentosa Development Corporation said that following the decision by Haw Par to close Underwater World, it is "looking into refreshing the site with new and exciting experiences for all guests visiting Sentosa".
Mr Philip Chan, senior supervisor of divers at Underwater World was reluctant to part with the animals. "After caring for the animals for 25 years, I feel sad that Underwater World Singapore is closing. We'll all miss the fishes," he said.
There were 2,500 marine creatures across 250 species in the aquarium, according to its website. They include sharks, rays, octopuses, turtles and many species of fish.
The aquarium will mark its closing with a month of charity activities this month (June). It will give beneficiaries from charities it has worked with free admissions to the attraction.
It will also be lowering ticket prices for all to its 1991 opening price from Tuesday (June 7). Its current ticket prices are $29.90 for adults and $20.90 for children.
When Underwater World opened in May 1991, it was the largest tropical fish oceanarium in Asia. Built at a cost of over $20 million, it was a big draw for tourists and the opening bumped up visitor figures for Sentosa.
The attraction is best known for its 83m underwater tunnel, where visitors can view the fish swimming above their heads and around them.
More than 30 million visitors have visited since it opened, said its spokesman.
Mr Allan Chia, who heads the Master of Business Administration Programme at UniSIM's School of Business, said that Underwater World is a "micro attraction" as it is only targeted at people who want to see sea creatures.
Noting that Underwater World was a major attraction in the 1990s when Sentosa did not have many attractions then, he said that an issue now is that "there are other things like Resort World Sentosa's attraction".
Dr Michael Chiam, senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said that as Underwater World's visitorship dwindled over the years, its impact on the tourism industry "is not that great".
But there has been an outpouring of nostalgia for the attraction on social media since the news of its closure broke.
Ms Ummi Nurul Syafiqah, 21, said it is an "iconic" attraction in Singapore, comparing it to other landmarks like the Merlion and the Esplanade.
Reminiscing about the tunnel through the attraction's oceanarium, Ms Syafiqah, a geriatric occupational therapist, said "one of the most awesome parts of Underwater World was that you could see sea creatures like sharks swimming above".