Concern over juvenile sharks in Singapore dental clinic turns into ugly argument

This article is more than 12 months old

Marine conservationists have raised concerns over three juvenile blacktip reef sharks spotted in the aquarium of a dental clinic in Tanjong Pagar, calling for the creatures to be moved to a bigger facility.

The argument has turned ugly on social media, with netizens taking sides and some resorting to name calling.

It is not illegal to keep sharks in a tank. But the issue is whether such large-ranging creatures should be kept in private tanks in the first place, said marine conservationist and photographer Michael Aw, 61.

Blacktip reef sharks, which can be found in Singapore's waters, typically grow to about 1.6m, and up to 2.9m, said Mr Aw.

The sharks seen at the Braces & Implant Dental Centre at Tras Street now measure about an arm's length, or about 0.3m.

"The tank is far too small to allow for the natural growth and behaviour of this species," said Mr Aw.

In response to queries, a spokesman for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said its officers had visited the dental clinic and did not find any animal welfare issues.

"The clinic had also engaged an aquarist to maintain the tank and take care of the fish. The sharks were also seen by an aquatic veterinarian," said AVA.

The sharks were spotted in the tank last month by one of Mr Aw's colleagues, Ms Linda Leong, who took a video of the animals and uploaded it on Facebook. It prompted netizens and marine conservationists to express concern for the welfare of the animals.

Mr Aw has sent e-mails since Jan 2 to the clinic, asking for the release of the sharks.

Dr Jimmy Gian, the owner of the dental clinic, replied on Jan 6, sparking an e-mail exchange which grew increasingly heated.

Over the phone last night, Dr Gian told The Straits Times he had purchased the sharks with the intention of releasing them when they grew beyond 0.6m, as the tank could not accommodate the adult sharks anyway.

But the escalation of the issue on social media had resulted in the clinic staff bearing the brunt of online abuse, which made it hard to engage in discussions with the conservationists, said Dr Gian.