By Derek Baldwin

Tentative plans by an American theme-park company to reportedly resurrect shelved plans to open a SeaWorld adventure park in Dubai are meeting mounting opposition over alleged abuses which the firm categorically denies.

Orlando-based SeaWorld confirmed in May that it has inked a tentative deal to explore building a new park in the Middle East, a venture that would be its first international deal outside the United States.

Proprietor of 11 parks across the US, SeaWorld in a May conference call with analysts confirmed that it signed a deal with an unnamed partner in the region to “assess the viability of a multi-park development in the Middle East” but Dubai has not been confirmed publicly as the future host.

According to US media reports, SeaWorld President and Chief Executive Jim Atchison told analysts he had high confidence in its new Middle East partner that he described as a firm with “an established track record of opening and operating world-class attractions”.

A SeaWorld adventure park was once on the table in Dubai in conjunction with a larger World of Discovery theme park to open by 2012 but the plan never materialised in the fallout of the global economic crisis sparked in 2008.

An online petition, meanwhile, hosted by social media group Care 2 is taking aim at a possibleDubai-based SeaWorld citing alleged problems with the company.

The petition has collected 32,663 signatures from points across the globe, from Singapore andAustria to the UAE and Argentina.

A spokeswoman from Care 2 told Gulf News that the petition was launched on April 21, 2015.

According to Care 2, almost 10 per cent of the signatories claim to be from the United Arab Emirates.

“There are 2,803 signatures from the UAE specifically, and it has obviously gotten a lot of attention from the international community as well,” said Care 2 public relations staff Emily Logan.

“We have seen some great success with petitions like this influencing governments and private companies to scrap plans that are bad for animals or bad for the environment. I think if this petition author is able to keep pushing for more signatures there is a very real chance that the outrage expressed could convince them not to go ahead with the park,” Logan told Gulf News.

Petition author Melanie Barrett said in her online petition, “Dubai has a great reputation as a popular tourist destination for beautiful architecture, beautiful nature and kind-hearted people, thus you should not tarnish your great reputation by allowing SeaWorld to open a SeaWorld park in Dubai.”

Barrett cited concerns being raised by groups in the United States about marine mammals that in the wild cover great distances in the ocean being confined to small watery enclosures.

“In the wild, killer whales are the king of the ocean and they swim 100 miles per day. In confinement, they are living in a tiny swimming pool that is the equivalent to a human living in a bathtub,” writes Barrett.

In an interview with Gulf News from Orlando, Fred Jacobs, SeaWorld Vice-President Corporate Communications, declined comment as to whether a new Seaworld park would be built in Dubai.

“I am unable to discuss our international expansion plans beyond what has been reported in our public filings and other investor communications,” Jacobs said.

But he ardently defended the longtime marine-park firm against animal abuse allegations noting that SeaWorld meets all laws and regulations and is involved in extensive environmental conservation campaigns to help, not hurt, marine animals.

“Animal rights activists have targeted SeaWorld for many years and their allegations about how we care for animals are unfounded. We are among the world’s most respected zoological institutions. The US government strictly regulates animal care at SeaWorld, with frequent random inspections by federal veterinarians and other officials,” Jacobs said. “We pass strict licensing requirements every single year.”

Jacobs said that Seaworld is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

“Conservation, research, education and animal rescue have always been core values of this company. We conduct scientific research ourselves, allow outside researchers to study the animals in our parks, and we support research and conservation on every continent. The founders of SeaWorld established conservation as a priority more than a year before the firstSeaWorld park opened its gates in 1964. Because of our resources, expertise and the great number and variety of animals we care for, we are uniquely suited to wildlife conservation and it is a source of pride for all of us at SeaWorld,” Jacobs said.