Oct 26

Conservationists are concerned for the welfare of five whale sharks which are being kept as a tourist attraction in an aquarium in Yantai, China.

Whale shark image

Whale shark filter feeding

World’s largest fish

The whale shark is the largest species of fish in the world, growing up to 12 metres in length and weighing up to 12,500 kilograms. Conservationists have criticised the new tank as it only measures around 27 by 16 metres, which is considered far too small for the five whale sharks.

Since the opening of the new whale shark aquarium, approximately 30,000 people have visited the attraction. Hua Ning, a campaigner for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), has condemned the aquarium as being purely a publicity stunt aimed at making money.

Hua Ning says, “I am quite pessimistic about the fate of these whale sharks. This aquarium only wants to make a profit and are using these creatures as a publicity gimmick. The whale shark is the largest fish in the world, and it needs a vast area of ocean to swim in.

Whale shark image

Whale shark swimming in natural habitat

Fate of captive whale sharks

The whale shark is already a threatened species, listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and is at risk from overfishing throughout much of its range. It does not fare well in captivity, with two young males kept at an aquarium in Georgia dying within five months of each other in 2007. 

A study of the whale sharks housed at Okinawa Expo Aquarium between 1980 and 1998 found that they survived for an average of only 16 months in captivity before dying. This is an extremely sad fate for an animal that can live up to 70 years in its natural environment.

Xiao Bing, an environmental activist, says “Keeping them in a tiny space will put a lot of pressure on them and there will be corresponding consequences. In other countries, they prefer to take visitors out to sea in order to see large whales and fish. This is a low-cost way of enjoying nature, and mainland investors should look at this industry. But at the moment, the big companies and the government just focus on promoting tourism and making money.”

Whale shark image

Whale shark swimming at surface

A spokesperson for the aquarium where the whales are housed has stated that they have managed to keep another whale shark alive for more than three years in captivity, and therefore have the experience to manage this new exhibit. They did, however, refuse to say where the five whale sharks were captured and stated that whale sharks were not considered an endangered species in China.

Read more on this story on The Telegraph website.

Find out more about the whale shark on the Whale Shark Project website.

View images and videos of the whale shark on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

  • Jana (October 27th, 2011 at 12:01 am):

    This is just outrageous! And what a surprise – China again.. Another proof that they view animal welfare differently. And there is nothing we can do about that, they´re gonna do whatever the hell they want…

  • Grant (October 27th, 2011 at 12:30 am):

    What good could possibly come out of keeping a 12m animal in such a small tank aside from the financial benefit of the aquarium stakeholders?
    With 5 whale sharks in such a small tank they may well drown.
    Sharks are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity even when they have big enough tanks.

    A cultural change needs to occur in Asia in order for these creatures along with others to survive.