Trainer Puts Lipstick On Captive Beluga To Make Her Look 'Prettier'

"There’s no respect shown to the animal ... it’s just so bizarre."

A recent video shows a female trainer at a Chinese marine park doing something bizarre to a captive beluga — she smears bright red lipstick across the whale’s mouth, laughing as she does it. According to a news report, the trainer said she was trying to make the whale “prettier.”

The stunt, which took place at Sun Asia Ocean World, a marine park in the coastal city of Dalian in northeastern China, was captured on video and released on a popular Chinese social media site earlier this month. The video got a lot of views — it was played more than 100,000 times before being deleted this week, according to a news report. However, the video made some people very unhappy.

“I can’t believe people can do such things to make themselves popular,” one commenter wrote before the video was deleted, according to Metro.

Another commenter asked, “Is it safe to put lipstick on a whale? Has she thought about that before putting it on?”

Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), said she isn’t necessarily concerned about the harmful effects of the lipstick — if this stunt was a one-time event, the makeup probably didn’t cause much physical harm to the animal. Yet Rose is worried about the message this incident sends to the public.

Trainer putting lipstick on captive beluga

“What bothered me most about it, and what bothered me generally about what’s going on in China, is that there’s no respect shown to the animal,” Rose told The Dodo. “It’s all very anthropomorphic … It’s just so bizarre to treat the animal like it’s a canvas to paint on. It showed a very significant lack of respect.”

Rose, who has visited several Chinese aquariums and dolphinariums in the past few years, said she unfortunately isn’t entirely surprised by the stunt.

“I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised,” Rose said. “They [Chinese dolphinariums] do some very regressive circus-like things with the animals. It’s like going to a dolphinarium in the 1960s in the West. They do silly tricks and [play] ... really loud circus-like music — things that in the West have become less acceptable.”

Captive beluga with lipstick on mouth

Since the release of the video, Sun Asia Ocean World has publicly apologized for the incident, according to a news report. “We express our sincere apology to all the friends who like Sun Asia Ocean World,” a representative from the marine park reportedly said. The trainer is also said to have resigned.

While this incident might not be repeated at the park, Heather Rally, a marine mammal veterinarian who currently works with the PETA Foundation, said there are much bigger concerns around keeping beluga whales in captivity.

“In the wild, beluga whales can live up 60 years or more,” Rally told The Dodo. “But in captivity, there are relatively few adults who live beyond the 20- to 25-year range.”

Captive beluga with lipstick on mouth

There are many things that cause beluga whales to die prematurely in captivity, but stress is probably one of the biggest factors. A tank does a poor job of replicating a beluga’s natural environment in the wild, and captive belugas aren’t able to express any natural behaviors, Rally explained.

“In the wild, belugas are incredibly social animals,” Rally said. “They’d normally travel in smaller bonded groups called pods … and sometimes these pods will travel over 3,000 miles between their summer and winter migration locations ... and they also return year after year to these migration routes and destinations.”

Captive beluga with lipstick on mouth

Belugas also don’t reproduce well in captivity, Rally pointed out, so dolphinarium and aquarium owners are constantly needing to restock their facilities with animals they capture from the wild.

“Belugas are being torn from their families and ripped from the oceans every year to be relegated to a dismal life ... in concrete tanks for human amusement,” Rally said. “It’s an incredibly sad situation for belugas globally.”

One of the best things you can do to help belugas and other marine animals living in captivity is to not buy a ticket to marine parks or other facilities that keep these animals. You can also support animal welfare investigations by making a donation to AWI.