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September 23, 2017

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Animal rights group urges aquarium to release whale shark

TAIPEI--An animal rights group on Tuesday called for Taiwan's largest aquarium to immediately release a whale shark in its care to prevent physical and psychological damage, which the groups said could result from the creature's extended captivity in a small tank.

The tank at the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium can no longer accommodate the 6-meter-long whale shark, according to the Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST).

Whale sharks rely on continuous movement to breathe, which means that the one held at the museum in Pingtung would have to swim 360 laps around its tank each day to survive, said EAST Director Chen Yu-min.

This constant circular movement can cause severe damage to the shark's fins and its psychological health, she said.

The rectangular tank in which the whale shark is kept at the museum is 33 meters by 22 meters and 12 meters deep. Whale sharks, known to be the largest fish in the sea, can grow to lengths of up to 12 meters.

Chen accused the museum of keeping the shark in inhumane conditions and said that the laws pertaining to holding sharks in captivity, even for educational purposes, became very strict in the last five years.

The museum, however, had acquired the whale shark before the laws changed and would now have to meet more stringent regulations to obtain a different shark, Chen said. This is why it is holding onto the whale shark, she added.

"The whale shark is being held hostage by the museum," Chen said.

Chen urged that the museum release the shark immediately and suggested the adoption of 3D technology to demonstrate the sharks' lifestyle, instead of using real animals.

In response, Lee Chan-jung, a museum official who oversees the whale shark project, said the shark is in good health.

"It is okay," Lee said, adding that the museum stands firm on its mission to educate.

"Once the overall population and living quality of the whale shark species is maintained, it is acceptable to capture one or two for educational purposes," he said.

But Lee also said the museum is planning to release the shark in cooperation with the Fisheries Agency, which is revising the laws on the capture of sharks for research purposes.

When the preparatory work is completed, the museum will invite the local media to record the release of the shark "so people will know how we treat the fish," Lee said.

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