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"Hold your breath for 6 minutes," the poster ad tells Australian children.

Holding your breath underwater
One of the poster ads, pictured in Sydney’s Surry Hills on 27 September.

By GRACE JENNINGS-EDQUIST

Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium has pulled down posters inviting viewers to “hold your breath for 6 minutes” — amid concerns the ads sent an unsafe message to children.

The campaign, which promotes the aquarium’s current dugong exhibit, features a picture of a girl who looks around six visibly holding her breath — under the words: “Do like a dugong: Hold your breath for 6 minutes”.

Continuous breath-holding has been linked to deaths of Australian children including 12-year-old Jack McMillan, who drowned near Wollongong last year and Nic Fisher, who died in 2001 very similar circumstances.

The families of both boys have spoken out to raise awareness of children holding their breath for extended periods underwater.

Nic’s sister wrote for Mamamia at the weekend that her brother died due to shallow water blackout, which she said “is caused by competitive or continuous breath holding or by taking several deep breaths before diving under water.”

“Swimmers pass out due to lack of oxygen and the delayed trigger to breathe means that water quickly fills the lungs. When this happens, death or brain damage occurs much quicker than the usual form of drowning,” she said.

“It was this simple game – familiar to every Australian kid – that took Nic’s life so swiftly and silently.”

A change.org petition last month called on the aquarium to remove the ads on the grounds the ad was “misleading” and “very much accident-prone”.

Nic Fisher
Nic Fisher
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“What if, out of excitement and imitation, our children tend to hold their breath for 6 minutes?,” the petition’s founder Bulson Lamgade, of Sydney, wrote. “What can be more fatal and disastrous than this?”

Asked by Mamamia whether the campaign was sending an unsafe message, a spokeswoman for Sea Life acknowledged this was a “real issue” — and said the aquarium was in the process of removing the campaign from the market.

She said the poster — despite its instruction to “do like a dugong” — was not meant to be taken literally.

“This specific advertisement is a part of a larger campaign, which is certainly not intended to encourage children to take any of the comparisons with the dugongs literally, including the holding of one’s breath for any period of time,” the spokeswoman said.

“The campaign is rather intended for adults and children alike to interpret the comparisons of humans to dugongs as a fun way to learn about the anatomy, personalities and quirks of our famous dugongs, Pig and Wuru,” she said.

“However, we do acknowledge this is a real issue and so have taken the steps to ensure our campaign doesn’t contribute further to it. We have updated and removed this particular part of the ad campaign from everywhere except on the bus panels, which we are endeavouring to remove as soon as possible.”

Holding your breath underwater
Another of the campaign images.

When Mamamia mentioned a Facebook ad from September was still visible on the Sea Life aquarium Facebook page, the spokeswoman said that would now be removed.

What do you think of the campaign? Was it the right move to take the campaign down?

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