SeaWorld. Just mention the very name around marine activists and you are bound to get an earful about how evil, how heartless, how inhumane they are when it comes to keeping Orcas, dolphins, and other animals in tanks. Ever since the documentary Blackfish came out, people have been maligning the marine park for its so-called cruel practice of captivity. Much of the criticism is warranted. Capturing healthy animals for amusement is wrong for so many different reasons. We get that people are waking up to the reality of animal confinement, and the notion that coercing them to perform for our entertainment needs to stop. However, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Not all aquariums are evil. They really do provide many much needed services both for animals and for humans. Here are examples of when aquariums are a good thing:
Education is the key to making positive change, no matter what the problem. And our oceans are facing all kinds of problems. From acidification to coral bleaching to overfishing, there are a multitude of issues facing the world’s oceans, and marine aquariums are on the forefront of this struggle. With educational animal exhibits, aquariums inspire the public to better understand, cherish and conserve marine and coastal ecosystems.
In 2014, a strange and distressing observation was made in the waters off the West Coast of the US. Sea stars were dying in terribly gruesome ways, and nobody really knew why. To gain a better understanding of the problem, researchers from local aquariums donned dry suits and did some field investigation. Sea Star Wasting Syndrome soon became a household term, with websites dedicated to observations and data about the disease, mainly due to the efforts of the aquariums. This is only one example of how these establishments work in the real world solving real world problems.
In November of 2015, a tropical masked booby was found in Newport, Oregon, the second of its species ever reported north of Mendocino County, California. With warmer ocean temperatures, this kind of thing seems to be happening with more frequency. And when it does happen, we call on aquariums to help. First the bird had to be quarantined because of avian flu possibilities. When it was determined the bird had a clean bill of health, its rehab could continue unabated. The bird was fattened up on Oregon seafood, nursed back to health, and sent via airmail back to California with an interesting tale to tell its masked booby friends. This is only one rehabilitation story.
Sharing The Magic
This is by far the most visible, most exciting aspect of aquariums—the magic. We all know what I mean. There’s something magical about human-animal interactions, and at aquariums there are all kinds of opportunities for such interactions. There’s something magical about seeing the wonder in a child’s eyes as they touch an anemone for the first time, or see their first shark up close. Children of all ages, from 2 to 92, are delighted by the animal exhibits.
With all good things aquariums do, it’s clear they are needed, provided that they are operated properly. It is the aquariums, after all, that make people aware about our oceans, and only through awareness will they ever want to conserve them.