Seaside hotel's new 'highly unsuitable' exhibit for guests sparks concern

Pictures of an orca languishing in a newly built concrete enclosure have frustrated animal welfare advocates.

Stella the orca in her tank at Kobe Suma Sea World Hotel.
Stella the orca's behaviour inside her new tank has left observers concerned for her welfare. Source: Life Investigation Agency/Dolphin Project

Japan’s oldest captive orca has been delivered to a newly refurbished seaside hotel and aquarium complex in the country’s south, sparking concern for its welfare. Images supplied to Yahoo News from animal welfare investigators show the creature languishing in a concrete tank without visible enrichment.

Observers reported the whale was alternating between “spending a long time just floating in the water” and displaying stereotypic behaviour by repeatedly swimming back and forth.

The hotel's owner Granvista maintains 22 hotels across the country, with some offering restaurant diners underwater views of its marine mammal exhibits. Stella, the elderly orca pictured at the Kobe Suma Sea World Hotel, will take part it claims in “surprising and moving performances” which are "educational" and "entertaining", when the complex reopens in June. Guests will also be able to pay to swim with dolphins.

An aerial shot of Kobe Suma Sea World Hotel.
A Japanese seaside hotel and aquarium complex is under fire for shipping in a wild orca to entertain guests. Source: Life Investigation Agency/Dolphin Project

Related: 'World's loneliest orca' dies after 12 years alone in tank

Aerial photos of Stella taken by Japanese animal welfare group Life Investigation Agency (LIA) and US-based Dolphin Project, show Stella alone in her new blue tank, which resembles a large swimming pool. She had previously been housed with her daughter Ran II and grandson Earth. It remains unclear how long she will spend alone.

Using captive orcas for entertainment increasingly controversial

Keeping whales and dolphins in captivity for human entertainment is increasingly controversial, particularly orcas. Animal welfare and safety concerns led to a surge in protests, cancelled corporate sponsorships, and a celebrity outcry, Sea World in the United States ceased breeding the species in 2016, however they keep them in captivity for what it claims is “conservation” purposes.

An aerial shot of Kobe Suma Sea World Hotel. If you look closely you can see Stella inside her tank.
Concerns have been raised about the lack of enrichment inside the tank. Source: Life Investigation Agency/Dolphin Project

Related: 'Absurd' product trialled in Japanese vending machines

LIA director Ren Yabuki lamented that Japan is “bucking the trend” and instead of phasing out orca shows, it’s “expanding its approach in exploiting wild animals”. He argues there is no educational value in housing orcas in captivity.

Stella was captured from Icelandic waters in 1987 when she was just one year old, and during her 37 years in captivity, she has given birth to five calves.

Yabuki described her current housing as a “highly unsuitable environment” and criticised the aquarium for forcing its orcas to perform tricks that are “far removed from their natural behaviour”.

He called on Granvista to send its orcas to an ocean sanctuary, so they can be rehabilitated and transferred back to the wild. Gransvista has been contacted for comment.

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