Seals Trapped In Shopping Mall Can't Even Open Their Eyes
It’s a “living hell for animals.”
Two years ago, a captive polar bear named Pizza grabbed the world’s attention when he was filmed lying in a small tank, staring out listlessly as tourists snapped photos of him. He was dubbed the “world’s saddest polar bear,” and there was an international outcry about his living conditions — at the time, he was being kept in a sunless glass-windowed room with only a small pool to swim in at the Grandview Aquarium, a substandard “zoo” located in a shopping mall in Guangzhou, China.
Pizza was eventually moved to Tianjin Haichang Polar Ocean World, an aquarium in northern China, where he was reunited with his mother. While there are still serious concerns about the marine park where he now lives — his enclosure appears to be small and unnatural, and the aquarium features performing animal shows — Pizza appears slightly healthier now, according to National Geographic.
While Pizza may have left, Grandview Aquarium, his original home, is still open, and its resident animals, including belugas, seals and a walrus, continue to suffer there every single day.
Earlier this year, investigators from China Cetacean Alliance (CCA) visited the zoo to document the current conditions, and they were shocked by what they saw. In fact, they described it as a “living hell for animals.”
The four resident beluga whales (originally caught in the wild in Russia) had no enrichment inside their tiny tank, and displayed stereotypic behaviors — repetitive patterns that indicate stress in captive animals — like swimming in circles and pressing their foreheads against the wall of their pool to turn. Other times, they appeared lethargic and languished at the bottom of the pool, only rising to the surface to get a breath of air.
The belugas were also forced to perform for paying guests, which didn’t seem to be an enjoyable experience for the animals, the investigators observed.
“Each day they are forced to perform unnatural behaviours such as curling their bodies into circles and kissing members of the audience as part of choreographed performances,” CCA wrote in its report. “The performance witnessed by our investigators showed one whale not responding to its trainer as requested, clearly showing signs of boredom with its routine.”
“Freedom to swim, hunt, [and] explore a vast ocean and enjoy a community life is not possible for these majestic animals in captivity,” the group added.
There were also seven spotted seals at the aquarium, and they didn’t have things much better. The water in their tank was extremely murky, and the seals had to squint or close their eyes due to the poor water quality. The seals’ enclosure also reeked of disinfectant, the group said.
The two sea lions also didn’t have enrichment in their miniscule tank, and the investigators observed them smashing their snouts at the bottom of their tank, despite there being nothing but excrement and debris there.
There was also a lone walrus who circled his tank, and pushed his pectoral fins against the wall and turned around, again and again.
“The pool had no enrichment [and] no shelter and the walrus had no companions,” CCA said.
Strangely enough, there are also two Alaskan malamutes, who are domestic dogs, inside the zoo’s “Arctic Wolf Pavilion.” The dogs had things pretty tough as well.
“Malamutes need a large outdoor space, but unfortunately these dogs are confined to one small room with no sunshine, no grass and very few toys,” China Cetacean Alliance said.
These weren’t the only animals at the zoo — there was also a Chinese water dragon with an injured snout, as well as alpacas, meerkats, chinchillas, squirrel monkeys, tortoises and dogs and cats at an accompanying pet exhibit. All of the animals were kept in extremely small and dirty enclosures, and had no enrichment, according to the report.
The investigators were also keenly aware of the animals who were not there — a large number of fish had died, and the pool that once housed a whale shark has been empty since 2016.
Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), said that she isn’t surprised things are still bad at Grandview Aquarium — in fact, she expects conditions to become increasingly worse at the facility ages. Rose visited the zoo in 2016, and she remembers the belugas acting in troubling ways. For instance, one beluga played with a paint chip that had fallen off its tank.
“First of all, the paint shouldn’t be chipping,” Rose told The Dodo. “Whatever paint they’re using is not appropriate for these saltwater tanks because it’s chipping. But if it is chipping, they should be in there all of the time cleaning it up because it’s dangerous for animals to ingest paint chips, or you should have a filtration system that handles it and remove those paint chips constantly. We actually watched this one beluga playing with it — sucking it in and blowing it out, sucking it in and blowing it out. Basically, that was a toy … which also begs the question, ‘Why weren’t there real toys in there?’ It was really bizarre.”
Rose also believes the zoo’s location in a shopping mall is highly inappropriate.
“If any of these animals got out, they’d be in hysterics — they’d be completely traumatized,” Rose said. “There’d be nowhere for them to go, and they’d be amongst a bunch of screaming, panicking people.”
The zoo isn’t on the ground floor, so if a natural disaster hits, the tanks could leak or break, which would cause chaos in the shopping mall, Rose said.
The best thing people can do to help the residents at Grandview Aquarium, as well as animals at other subpar facilities in China, is to talk about the situation on social media, Rose said.
“The more Westerners talk about how horrible they find what is happening in China, the more China will realize how much of a black eye their trade in wild-caught cetaceans is giving them globally,” Rose said. “They won’t like that and it may eventually get them to rethink what they’re doing.”