[The author of this post is a volunteer for the news site inmediahk.net, which is quoted multiple times in this report.]
A demonstration against the captivity of marine animals at Hong Kong Ocean Park ended in bad blood between the protest's organizers and a number of local activists who were asked to leave for bringing along a dolphin sculpture made to look bloodied.
The rally was part of the Empty the Tanks global day of protest against marine mammal facilities on July 27, 2013, organized by network of animal right activists in 24 cities through Facebook. Several activists attended the protest in Hong Kong, holding a banner and posters on a staircase near the back of the park.
But three activists coming from a group called the Dolphin Family were kicked out by the organizers of the Empty the Tanks protest because they were exhibiting a blood-stained dolphin sculpture to the displeasure of the park's public relations staff.
Peg, a member Dolphin Family, was one of the protesters forced to leave during the protest. She wrote her personal account[zh] of the story on citizen journalism site inmediahk.net:
其實決定參加這活動前，已疲於向舉辦者在 chat room 周旋。起初是勸告我們幾位不要用 Dolphin Family 身份出席「棄缸救友」的活動，我們答應後，又改口叫我們連個人身份也不要去，強調他們是和平表達訴求，日後要爭取跟海洋公園對話，我們在場會令海洋公園盛智文不悅。
Actually we had been negotiating with the organizers via chat room before the protest. At first we were told that we could not attend “Empty the Tanks” under the identity of “Dolphin Family”. We agreed. But then they changed their position and asked us not to attend on individual base. They stressed that the protest is peaceful and they have to talk to Ocean Park in the future. Our presence will make Allan Zeman (the CEO of Ocean Park) not happy.
Peg described how they were kicked out from the protest scene:
After we had arrived at the site, we put the bloodied dolphin to the back. We also sat at the back of the whole protest group. Some thought the sculpture fit the theme and brought it to the front. The Ocean Park public relations staff was unhappy and said our dolphin would “scare the kids” and they demanded the organizers kick us out. Then the two parties called in a number of police officers who asked us to leave the protest area with the dolphin… Even though we know that such action was against freedom of expression and we felt so frustrated, we didn't want to “fulfill” the “prediction” of the Empty the Tanks organizers that we are “not peaceful, not cooperative” with “malicious intention” to destroy the protest, so we carried the blood-stained dolphin and slowly walked along the road opposite to the protest area.
However, even we had left the protest area, the Ocean Park PR and organizers followed us and around a dozen police officers and security staff surrounded us, asked us to leave the public space which is under Ocean Park management.
Zoe Ng, one of the organizers, responded to the criticism in an interview [zh] with Housenews [the interview was conducted in English and written in Chinese, below is a back translation according to the written Chinese version]:
我不記得我曾經叫過任何人不要來參與示威。但我設定了一些規則要遵守。… … 我花了很多時間開會並取得批准。我與海洋公園有很好的溝通，現在全都沒有了。謝謝『豚聚一家』摧毀了我的努力。
The Ocean Park PR asked me to removed the artwork (the blood-stained dolphin) because it made their customers unhappy. In that case it would not be a peaceful protest anymore. If I did not follow the demand, I would get into trouble. It is important to understand the meaning of “peaceful”, please check its definition.
I don't remember having ever asked anyone not to participate in the protest. But I had set up a number of rules to be followed… … I had spent a lot of time preparing to get the protest approved. The park and I had good communication. But it all got ruined. Thank Dolphin Family (the name of Peggy’s group) for destroying my effort.
The business of marine mammal captivity
Hong Kong Ocean Park opened in 1977 and is funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club while the land was provided by the government at nominal premium.
Riding on the individual visit scheme policy that allows residents from major mainland Chinese cities to have multiply entries to Hong Kong with a simple procedure, the Ocean Park is determined to compete with Hong Kong Disneyland for the amusement park business. Dolphin performance is one of the major tourist attraction. Another way they attract customers [zh] is to introduce rare animals and create an environment that allows tourists to have close contact with animals, including sea mammals. In 2014, the park will launch a new attraction Shark Mystique which will exhibit 100 sharks in captivity representing 15 species.
Even though the Park is registered and managed by Ocean Park Corporation, a non-profit statutory body, it has generated huge profit in the past few years. The annual attendance numbers for Ocean Park from June 2011 to June 2012 is more than seven million, an increase of 20 percent on the previous year. About half of the tourists come from mainland China.
The income generated was 1.6 billion HK dollars (about 200 million US dollars) with a 103.3 million HK dollars (about 13 million US dollars) net surplus for for fiscal year ending June 30, 2012.
The activists behind the Empty the Tanks Worldwide initiative believe the confinement of dolphins, whales, and other sea creatures to aquariums like Ocean Park is cruel, as they explain in a campaign video available on YouTube:
So does Dolphin Family, who shortly before the protest at Ocean Park organized a press conference to announce [zh] the results of an online survey that indicated 90 percent of the respondents opposed dolphin performance as tourist attraction. Currently, the park has an average of four dolphin theatre shows [zh] per day.
Ho Loy, an animal right activist who was a guest invited by the organizers of the “Empty the Tanks” day, could not stand the organizers’ decision to kick out Dolphin Family members and decided to speak out. She described her interaction with the Ocean Park Public Relations staff and organizer Zoe Ng in inmediahk.net:
〔公關〕不理我是來支持終止海洋劇場的公眾身份，硬要我同意她的：「血海豚」雕塑太迫真了，嚇到小孩子的說法。… … 被我拒絕了她的謬論後，一個惡形惡相的海洋公園保安圍了上來，重複著我腳下踏著的地方都是海洋公園的管理範圍，請我離開。我提醒她，我是公眾，我有權站在海洋公園的公眾開放空間上… … 這時Zoe Ng衝了上來說這活動是她的「show」，我提醒她現場出席人士都是義工或朋友，沒有一個是她的僱員，地方也不是她的，活動是公眾的，不是她的。她説活動的批文是她的名義，我提醒她，批文的活動範圍是那後樓梯，不是我們站著的地方。這裡發生著的事跟她無關。
[The Public Relations staff] ignored my position against the ocean theatre, forced me to agree to her argument that the bloodied dolphin was too real and will scare children… I rejected such reasoning and a fierce-looking security officer stepped in, saying that the spot I was standing on is under the management of Ocean Park, and asked me to leave. I reminded her that I am a local citizen and I have the right to stand in any public space… … Then Zoe Ng came forward and said the activity was her show. I reminded her that all attendants were volunteers and friends, no one was her staff. She does not own the place and the event is public, not her private event. She stressed that she had applied for the protest approval document from police, I reminded her that the spot where we were standing was not the protest area she had applied for. Her event site was at the backside staircase. What happened here had nothing to do with her.
Excellent initiative, well done to all involved.