DUBAI // More than 98,000 animal lovers have signed a petition against plans for a SeaWorld theme park possibly in Dubai.
The US company that owns a chain of marine mammal parks, oceanariums and animal theme parks said in May last year it planned to open a venue in the Middle East.
It did not confirm a location but Melanie Barrett, who started the online petition this year urging Dubai not to allow SeaWorld to open, said the emirate would be the obvious location because of its expertise in setting up and operating large-scale attractions.
SeaWorld has come in for criticism in the US in recent months over the alleged treatment of whales at its parks.
“SeaWorld speaks so excitedly about plans to open a Middle East park but how do you think the whales feel about that?” Ms Barrett said. “Do you think the whales are excited to be crane lifted into a jumbo jet and flown half way across the world only to be put in another tank in the middle of the desert?”
Dr Elsayed Mohamed, Middle East director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said marine mammals belong in the wild.
“IFAW believes the capture of cetaceans from the wild raises serious welfare concerns and IFAW is therefore opposed to the capture of cetaceans to be held in captivity,” he said.
UAE residents opposed to the possibility of a SeaWorld in Dubai said if the park went ahead it would attract adverse publicity.
“It is cruel to keep any animal in captivity and the negative publicity would be huge,” said Kirstie Lawton, 41.
“With all the campaigning and demands for it to be closed in the US, it’s no wonder SeaWorld is looking for a new location.”
Shannon Delorme, 31, a secondary school teacher, said if Dubai refused to allow the park to open there, it would be an exemplary act of mercy towards animals and would reveal the humane and forward-thinking side of the emirate.
“Places like SeaWorld that reduce athletic and majestic cetaceans that should be racing across miles of open ocean every day, to ill and distressed souls stagnating in the equivalent of a bathtub are outdated,” she said.
Emily Christensen, who has lived in Dubai for 15 years, was first alerted to the plight of sea creatures in captivity when watching the 2013 documentary, Blackfish, which highlighted claims that mistreatment of orca whales in the US provoked behaviour that lead to the death of three people.
“I visited SeaWorld in San Diego and in Brisbane (Australia), and have seen whale and dolphin shows in several other places,” she said. “I was blown away by how these amazing creatures moved and were so breathtakingly beautiful.
“After watching Blackfish, I cringe at those memories. I look forward to taking [my son] to Oman this winter to see the very tame and very happy dolphins in Musandam.”
A spokesman for SeaWorld said he was unable to discuss the company’s expansion plans.