HONG KONG - A Hong Kong theme park has dropped a contentious plan to buy and import rare wild-caught beluga whales, in a decision lauded Friday by conservationists who had protested against the bid.
Activists opposed Ocean Park's plan to import the whales, classified as "near threatened", from Russia, saying they are often injured or killed during capture and mortality rates are high among those in captivity.
The park had wanted to use the belugas, usually found around the Arctic circle, to raise public awareness of climate change through its new Polar Adventure attraction to open next year.
"After due consideration, we have decided not to pursue an acquisition from the wild even though the removal of some beluga whales has been shown to be sustainable," Allan Zeman, Ocean Park's chairman, said in a statement.
The popular 34-year-old theme park and aquarium is owned by the Hong Kong government and has set out ambitious plan to boost visitors. Tourists from mainland China made up 60 per cent of its five million visitors last year.
The beluga, or white whale, is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) "red list" of "near threatened" species, while the US and Canada have effectively banned the whales' capture from their waters.
"The park did the right thing. We certainly welcome the decision," Samuel Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, told AFP.