Video of dolphin ramming head repeatedly against tank wall purportedly taken at S.E.A. Aquarium in 2018

US-based organisation Empty The Tanks said the video was sent to them by a S.E.A. Aquarium visitor last year.
US-based organisation Empty The Tanks said the video was sent to them by a S.E.A. Aquarium visitor last year.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM EMPTY THE TANKS/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The video showing a dolphin repeatedly ramming its head against the wall of a tank it was kept in, purportedly at Resorts World Sentosa's (RWS) S.E.A. Aquarium, was taken by a member of the public last year.

It was then sent to Empty The Tanks, a United States-based organisation focused on ending dolphin and whale captivity.

The organisation's founder Rachel Carbary told The Straits Times on Thursday (Dec 5) that someone sent the organisation the video a day after he visited the S.E.A. Aquarium last year.

The dolphins at the resort can be viewed in their habitat at Dolphin Island via a glass panel.

Said Ms Carbary: "During his visit, he witnessed the disturbing dolphin behaviour seen in the video and chose to record it.

"We have shared this video on social media in the hopes of bringing more attention to the plight of these sentient animals that continue to suffer in captivity."

It has garnered more than 240,000 views and 1.9k shares since it was posted by Empty The Tanks on its Facebook page on Sunday.

When contacted, an RWS spokesman said that it is unable to confirm that the video was taken at its S.E.A. Aquarium attraction as it is not aware of such an incident. The resort has over 20 dolphins.

Dr Chua Tze Hoong, group director of Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) at National Parks Board, said that its veterinary team had visited the RWS dolphin facility in Singapore on Thursday, and did not observe any "abnormal" behaviour during the visit.

He added that the AVS takes a "serious view" on ensuring that animal businesses comply with licensing requirements to safeguard animal health and welfare.

In the 27-second footage, an Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) can be seen swimming towards the side of a tank it was kept in and slamming its head against it nine times.

"This distressing behaviour is one of the many reasons dolphins do not belong in captivity," read the caption that accompanied the video post.

In a statement to ST, RWS said: "At Dolphin Island, we allow our dolphins to swim on their own or in groups at different timings where they can explore and interact with one another in our large interconnecting lagoons which can be differently reconfigured to encourage play and socialisation."

Dr Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist who works for the US-based Animal Welfare Institute, told ST what the dolphin in the video did is an example of stereotypy.

"This kind of repetitive, pointless, even self-damaging behaviour is the essence of stereotypy. It is a sign of boredom, neurosis, depression.

"It's hard to say exactly what is going on here, but it's definitely a sign of poor emotional health," she added.

 
 
 
 

Dr Rose pointed out that dolphins kept in tanks are denied primary natural behaviours such as straight-line swimming for several kilometres and diving more than 30m deep.

Foraging for live prey is also a key natural activity that the intelligent, social hunters are denied in captivity, said Dr Rose.

In extreme cases, boredom and monotony could lead to depression and other health problems for the creatures, she added.

Dr Rose noted that the bottlenose dolphin - which is the most common dolphin species held in captivity - is generally not listed as endangered or threatened.

Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), who has seen the video, said that it is not surprising to see a wild animal kept in captivity displaying signs of stress.

"We have to ask what educational value there is in a scenario where wild animals are taken from their home and family, and placed in a tiny facility for the sake of human entertainment and corporate profits."

"No man-made tank can come anywhere close to replicating the natural environment these animals are found in... We stand by our position that the dolphins should never have been brought into the country in the first place."

SPCA had campaigned against RWS' decision to bring the wild-caught dolphins into Singapore in 2010. It also called for the release of the mammals again in 2014, after a fourth RWS dolphin death in May that year.

In a report in July, the World Animal Protection singled out RWS' Dolphin Island as one of the attractions that violate the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (WAZA) animal welfare guidelines.

The guidelines state that its member venues should "avoid using animals in any interactive experiences when their welfare may be compromised".

The animal welfare organisation stated that the swim-with-dolphins programme at Dolphin Island, which has been a WAZA institutional member since 2014, had breached the guidelines.

Wildlife researcher and author of the report, Dr Neil D'Cruze, said: "During swim with dolphins' interactions, visitors' fingernails and jewellery can damage dolphins' delicate skin.

"The presence of people in their enclosures can also increase the animals' stress levels.

"Since dolphins carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans and vice versa, direct interactions can transmit pathogens and leave visitors, staff and animals all susceptible to the spread of disease."