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Abu Dhabi’s SeaWorld park move invites animal lovers’ wrath

|ARABIAN POST SPECIAL| Abu Dhabi’s much-fancied plan to set up the first SeaWorld marine life park outside the US on the Yas Island has run into a controversy, with the animal cause organisation PETA shooting off a letter of appeal to Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority to scrap the project.

The theme park is set to be run by Miral Asset Management, which is the development arm of Abu Dhabi Tourism Development and Investment Company, under the Tourism and Culture Authority.

In the letter addressed to Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of Miral Asset Management and the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, PETA– whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment” – notes that SeaWorld confines far-ranging dolphins and other marine mammals to tiny tanks, where they can swim only in endless circles and often break their teeth in frustration by gnawing on the concrete corners and metal bars of their tanks.

Ever since the film Blackfish exposed the company’s cruelty to animals, its attendance has tanked, top executives have stepped down, hundreds of employees have been laid off, and celebrities from Harry Styles to Pamela Anderson and Ewan McGregor have urged people to stay away.

“Modern travellers want to spend their money on technologically advanced attractions – such as Abu Dhabi’s racetrack, roller coaster, and skyscrapers – not antiquated marine-mammal shows”, says PETA Asia Vice President of International Operations Jason Baker. “PETA hopes His Excellency will protect Abu Dhabi’s extraordinary reputation by refusing to allow SeaWorld to set up its tanking business in the city – or anywhere else in the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

PETA is calling on SeaWorld to retire all the remaining animals it holds captive to a seaside sanctuary, where they could finally have some semblance of a natural life.

In December last year, SeaWorld and the Abu Dhabi government-backed Miral ­Asset Management said the park would open in 2022 on the tourism and entertainment hub.

The site will have a research, animal rescue and rehabilitation centre, which will open ahead of the park, and the theme park will focus on educating visitors about ocean conservation, officials said. The two companies had reportedly been in talks since 2011 about a park in Abu Dhabi.

The park will offer a valuable educational experience for visitors and help with Abu Dhabi’s own rehabilitation and rescue programmes, said Mohamed Al Zaabi, chief executive of Miral. He said Miral is expecting visitors from the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe to come to Yas Island for the new attraction

The park will have thrill rides and aquariums but will also use 3-D mapping and virtual-reality technologies that immerse visitors in virtual scientific expeditions or deep-sea dives.