Bournemouth, UK: Merlin Entertainments (Merlin) has underlined the company’s commitment to its promises on marine conservation, education and ethical standards within its world leading aquarium business, SEA LIFE, with the appointment of into a new senior role as the brand’s Chief Ambassador. James has played a key role in the development of SEA LIFE since 1995. His role will involve:
• Working with SEA LIFE’s marine experts and operating teams in the 50 locations around the globe to unlock the wealth of knowledge, skill and passion as a true Force for Good.
• Building closer relationships with the various NGOs and environmental stakeholders as SEA LIFE seeks to put its full weight behind the current challenges facing marine life and habitats.
• Acting as the link between Merlin Entertainments (SEA LIFE’s parent company) and The SEA LIFE Trust. The Trust’s remit is to identify and spearhead non-profit marine conservation projects which can benefit from the significant investment and expertise SEA LIFE can offer. In short James will act as the global champion and ‘conscience’ of SEA LIFE with regards to the fulfilment of their promises on conservation, education and ethical operation. His commercial background makes him the ideal person to advise and guide the individual SEA LIFE operating businesses on how to deliver commercial objectives within this context, and to ensure a consistency of philosophy and approach cross borders and cultures. Commenting, Burleigh said: “I am very excited by this new challenge. I am not a marine biologist but my love of SEA LIFE and of marine life globally is unquestioned and it is a passion that has developed over more than 20 years. As I go round the SEA LIFE aquariums I am also aware of a common bond of absolute passion and tangible commitment from each team member to contribute to the welfare and conservation of marine life and their habitats through our BREED, RESCUE and PROTECT activities. I believe this, together with this new appointment, provides a really powerful catalyst for local and global change.” “Most of all I am looking to help guide, educate, and ultimately inspire over 20 million guests not just to share the joy of learning about rock pools and other habitats within our SEA LIFE Centres, but also to become ambassadors for marine life themselves, joining our campaigns and helping us secure the future of some of the planet’s most wesome creatures and their environments.
We have four key ways of getting our voice heard:
• Direct engagement with our 20 million+ guests, inspiring them through education and
• Global campaigning for issues we feel really passionate about.
• Local activity within our communities whether that be beach cleaning or animal rescue.
• Through fundraising for the SEA LIFE Trust.
With latest figures showing that marine life populations have declined by almost half since 1970*, SEA LIFE is I believe in a unique position to bring real power and influence to bear on big global issues.”
James’ first priority will be to review progress on the company’s various projects involving cetacean species around the world. SEA LIFE have always had a clear policy relating to the keeping of cetaceans, in particular whales and dolphins. The company believes they are unsuitable for captivity in aquaria or marine parks, and has never pro-actively acquired or sought to include these animals in its attractions. Over the years the company has very occasionally acquired dolphins and whales as part of a business they are buying, and in such cases the priority is always the welfare of the animals – first ensuring that they have the best care and environment within the attraction itself then pro-actively seeking a new and more suitable home for them, including where possible the potential for release back into the wild. This ideology is maintained in spite of the challenges with animals that have been in captivity for any length of time.
“Our current priority is to find a suitable location to establish a world’s first Beluga sanctuary for the 3 Beluga Whales that are currently looked after in our aquarium in Shanghai. We understand the scale of the task but ultimately will ensure we make the right decisions. Decisions that are first and foremost in the interests of the 3 belugas, all of whom have grown accustomed to human interaction and as such need to undertake a lengthy enrichment programme to secure their long term welfare when we finally find an appropriate home”, commented James.
James’ appointment has met with praise from one of the leading marine charities. Commenting on the new appointment Chris Vick, Deputy CEO WDC said: “WDC warmly welcomes James¹s appointment into this role. It reflects a very serious commitment to putting ‘heart’ and ‘conscience’ into everything SEA LIFE does. This commitment has always been there. It is evident in the policy not to keep dolphins in captivity, as some other aquaria do. It is also evident in their dedication to creating a sanctuary for ex captive whales and dolphins. Now, in creating this role, and in appointing James in particular, the heart and conscience of SEA life can be even clearer, even stronger. It¹s a major evolution and WDC welcomes it.” Here is a brief summary of the current status of all SEA LIFE’s cetacean projects – which will be James’ first priorities in his new role.
SEA LIFE and CETACEANS – An Update
• Beluga Whales in Shanghai
SEA LIFE together with conservation partner, WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) are continuing efforts to establish a natural, sea sanctuary where they can live, and where they can also be assessed for possible return to the wild. After much frustration and several disappointments most recently with a Russian site which after months of research proved unsuitable, the expert team on the project, now led by James, is currently actively assessing 7 possible sites on 3 continents, including working with Government and NGO contacts in those locations
The proposed sanctuary may also serve as a global centre for non-invasive research, education and conservation. While a very rigorous selection criteria has been established and the search considerably narrowed, this is a landmark endeavour with farreaching implications for the future of captive cetaceans generally. As such the project presents many challenges, more than SEA LIFE or WDC and the other expert advisors had ever envisaged. Challenges which they are nevertheless working painstakingly to
overcome one by one.
In the meantime the company has both improved the belugas’ environment, and continues to revise their routine to focus much more on natural behaviour and educating visitors about their natural biology and to prepare them for the proposed move. While we hope to be able to give a positive status update soon, a project like this has never been attempted before and involves many variables. Given the time and effort already expended on getting it right, we will not now jeopardise this endeavour with unrealistic timelines to suit others’ agendas.
While SEA LIFE has no dolphins in captivity within their attractions, their aim is also to establish a secure dolphin sanctuary in the Mediterranean to provide a solution for both governments and operators who are finally realizing the tide of opinion amongst a new generation of aquarium guests is fast changing. They have identified some potential locations and are currently talking to Ministries / Local Authorities / responsible bodies. Work has also already been commissioned into possible designs working with environmental consultants.
Finless Porpoise Project:
One of the ongoing projects of which the company is most proud centres around the aquarium in Busan in South Korea. Korea is the largest habitat for finless porpoises with more than 20-30,000 estimated to be living in the waters surrounding the Korean peninsula. A growing problem however has been injury caused to these creatures by fishing nets and boats and SEA LIFE is now part of an extensive collaborative research and protect project with the Korean Cetacean Research Institute (CRC). SEA LIFE Busan’s role is twofold. Primarily it is to provide a temporary home and care for injured animals and prepare them for reintroduction into the wild. During this time the porpoises are kept in purpose built facilities at the aquarium before being relocated to a coastal sea pen with minimum non-essential human contact to prepare them for release, and are assessed by experts on a regular basis. The secondary role, of equal importance, however is to educate and inform the many thousands of guests to SEA LIFE Busan, most of them Korean, on the plight and importance of these indigenous creatures, and to garner support for the project as a whole.
Plans are currently in place to release another finless porpoise back into the wild before
the end of this year.
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