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Whale arrives from Moscow for shows next month

Updated November 08, 2013

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The beluga whale comes out of the water on trainer's whistle. — Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
The beluga whale comes out of the water on trainer's whistle. — Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: Notwithstanding concerns of experts against holding shows of marine mammals, a three-metre-long white whale has arrived here from Moscow and is currently being kept at the Maritime Museum where dolphin shows are scheduled early next month, a visit to the facility showed.

The 10-year-old marine mammal (Delphinapterus leucas) is often called beluga (meaning white one in Russian) and sea canary due to its high pitched twitter. The whale is listed in the IUCN/The World Conservation Union’s vulnerable category (the species faces a high risk of extinction).

“It will be the first time that a dolphin show is being held in this part of the world. A foreign expert on water engineering has been with us for seven months to prepare the right living conditions for the cetacean,” said Syed Azfar Abbas representing the Karachi-based Dolphin Show International that he said would organise the show in collaboration with a Dubai-based company, Dolphin and I.

The toothed-whale weighing about one and a half tonne was transported on a chartered plane and it remained in a large container during the eight-hour flight.

A pool has been specially made to accommodate the animals; it’s about 85 metres long, 50 metres wide and has a depth of 15 metres. The pool water is being filtered round the clock.

A visit to the facility showed the whale was being looked after by three experts, a trainer, a vet and an expert on water engineering who kept a check on the pool condition. The adorable whale seemed to have a small injury on its beak and made a lot of noise as its trainer called him.

“The pool contains tap water but that has been turned into marine one by adding different chemicals. Its temperature is also regulated according to the mammals’ needs,” he said, adding that about Rs10m had been spent on the construction of the entire structure that included seating arrangements for 2,500 to 3,000 people.

The show, he said, was delayed because of poor law and order situation in Karachi.

“We call him Stephen. You don’t need to afraid of the animal as it’s extremely friendly. It is being fed on sardine and tuna,” explained Inga Strekach, a Ukrainian who has been a marine mammal trainer for 20 years.

Regarding concerns of marine experts over such shows which they consider a violation of animal rights as they are forced to live in unnatural conditions, she said: “It was not born in the wild but rather in captivity. We have held such shows in many countries.”

A dolphin and a sea lion are also expected to arrive shortly either from Bahrain or Russia, according to the organisers.

The show will kick off from Dec 1 and continue for the next 45 days. Three 40-minute shows will be held on a daily basis, including the morning show that will exclusively be reserved for schoolchildren.

While a booking office will start working next week, online booking has already been opened for public.

Experts raise concern

Meanwhile, experts working for nature conservation have urged the government and the agencies not to hold the dolphin shows which, they said, would neither be beneficial to the animals nor educate the public that animals need to be appreciated in the wild.

“We strongly suggest to the government and the agencies concerned to reconsider the initiative and look into the matter in detail. There are sufficient opportunities for public to see wild dolphins off the shore of Pakistan, especially Karachi. They can be observed without too much effort or expense and the experience is much more rewarding,” stated the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in a statement.

Dr Mauvis Gore representing the Marine Conservation International, a global partnership formed by marine scientists, said that circuses with animals were being phased out in the world as the conditions for animal welfare and husbandry were often atrocious. Being moved about under stress, cramped conditions, performing in a tiny arena packed with loud noises did not provide the animals with reasonable living conditions.

“It also gives the public the impression that these animals are there to perform for the public and at their whim. So rather than teaching the public to respect them as wild animals, they are placed in a fish bowl and treated as toys.

“Pakistan is being introduced to their key marine wildlife in a way that could take generations to re-educate,” she said via email when asked to comment on dolphin shows.