The video, titled “Unseen Show in Asia – Aquarium Thailand” shows aquarium staff in scuba gear roughly man-handling sharks, rays and turtles for the amusement of onlookers. In the video, divers ride a large nurse shark, then pin it against the side of the aquarium and force it to wave one of its pectoral fins to the crowd.
The divers are seen roughly cuddling two small leopard sharks which look as if they want to get away badly. Turtles are adorned with T-shirts bearing sponsors logos and ridden like aquatic horses. Sting rays are spun like Frisbees, and so on. One shark is even used as an air-guitar, and no... it isn’t a guitar shark.
Several aquarium patrons have uploaded similar content on Youtube which can be seen by searching Youtube for “Sonkla Aquarium”.
The video elicited a mix of emotions from mild disgust to outright rage by both Thai and foreign commenters.
“I’m not even going to look at the clip, its just pure f****** moronism. Anyone that would pay to go in an aquarium to look at that retarded behavior just defies words I can put on this page,” said Sam Kelly, a local expat dive instructor.
“Aquariums these days are the place for making money! I personally didn’t like the idea... They should operate it for educating people! Yes. Your job is to keep marine life healthy, feed them on daily schedules, but to play with them that way...umm,” says Prasith “Mood” Boonsob, another local dive instructor.
Gwyn Mills of the Thai-based Dive Tribe Conservation organisation based in Pattaya had this to say: “[It’s] very sad to see and just another reason to boycott what is just a pathetic show for the public. If aquariums spent more time and money educating the public to the plight of our oceans and working with real conservation organisations trying to repair damage done, then this would be a major step forward.”
There is even an petition via avaaz.org asking sponsors to pull support from the aquarium. Readers can find it by Googling “avaaz Songkhla”.
Marine turtles are fully protected in Thailand, and one has to ponder the legality of the actions of aquarium staff witnessed in the video.
I recently had a chance to discuss the Songkhla Aquarium video with the manager of our Phuket Aquarium. “Not good...they should not be doing that,” he said.
The Phuket Aquarium is run by the Phuket Marine Biological Center, (PMBC), which is part of the Department of Marine Coastal Resources (DMCR). As a regular visitor to the Phuket Aquarium, I can confirm they do not play with sharks or harass turtles.
However, the Songkhla Aquarium is not part of the Department of Coastal Resources, but rather run by the Songkhla Or Bor Jor (municipality).
The actions of aquarium staff and the responses of many of the aquarium visitors illustrates the challenges marine conservationists in Thailand face when attempting to change the public perceptions towards endangered or vulnerable marine creatures. It should be obvious to most that marine creatures are not our play things, and the Songkhla Aquarium should be ashamed.
Sharks, rays and turtles are majestic and graceful creatures, many of which are in great decline. We need a serious change in our attitudes before these Youtube videos are all we have left.