Feb 15, 2008

Aquarium "swim with whale sharks": carnival or conservation?

As the Atlanta Georgia Aquarium announces a programme to allow the public to swim with its captive whale sharks, there's been some discussion on the issue.

Resorts World Sentosa earlier also announced plans to have captive whale sharks in its aquarium.

Here are some excerpts, full articles on wildsingapore news

Whale sharks turned into carnival ride
Georgia Aquarium endangering its animals with new program
Lori Marino, Randy Malamud and Ron Broglio, Atlanta Journal-Constitution 14 Feb 08;

"We are disturbed that, after the deaths last year of two whale sharks in its charge, Ralph and Norton, the Georgia Aquarium has so little concern for the welfare of the remaining animals.

A careful professional stance would have been for the Georgia Aquarium to minimize all possible negative impacts on the remaining sharks in order to maximize their chances of survival, which, we already know from Asian aquariums, are not good in captivity.

Instead, the Georgia Aquarium chose to promote a highly commercial circus atmosphere and make the animals into an amusement park ride.

The aquarium markets this contest as a way to educate the public and preserve whale sharks. The sincerity of this claim is belied by the blatant exploitation of these animals at a price of $190 to $290 a swim or dive for nonmembers.

The aquarium has produced no credible evidence supporting the claim that visits to their whale shark exhibit (or any other exhibit, for that matter) translate into better understanding of whale sharks (or any other species). Also, there is no evidence that swimming with captive animals (such as fish and mammals) increases understanding and appreciation for them. Even if there were such evidence, would it be a risk worth taking?"

Lori Marino is a senior lecturer at Emory University's Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology program. Randy Malamud is professor and associate chair of Modern Literature, Ecocriticism and Cultural Studies at Georgia State University. Ron Broglio is an assistant professor in the School of Literature, Communication and Culture at Georgia Tech.

Dives with the sharks will inspire
Dave Santucci, Atlanta Journal-Constitution 15 Feb 08;

"When I was 5 years old, my parents brought me to the New England Aquarium. I was wowed by the amazing animals, and there was one experience on that trip I will never forget. One of the volunteers picked up a horseshoe crab and handed it to me to hold. Seeing these animals on TV is one thing, meeting them face to face through glass is inspiring, but an engaging experience with an animal can change someone's life.

More than 25 years later, I still look back at that experience as having a major influence on the educational and environmental path my life has taken. At Emory University, I majored in environmental studies. After graduating, I worked for CNN as a producer covering environmental stories, and now I work as the communications director for the Georgia Aquarium.

Thursday's opinion article "Whale sharks turned into carnival ride" (@issue) claimed there was no value to the Georgia Aquarium's new program to allow people to swim or dive with the whale sharks. I take personal issue with that because, aside from my story, I work alongside hundreds of people with similar stories and see thousands of people come to the aquarium every day who walk away with a greater appreciation for aquatic animals.

There is an elitist view that these animals should only be observed in the oceans, but very few of us could afford the thousands of dollars and weeks of time it would take to get a glimpse of the elusive whale shark. However, many of us can afford the $171 price for aquarium members to swim with whale sharks.

And if just holding a horseshoe crab shaped my life into caring deeply about the environment and the aquatic world, imagine what this experience will do for thousands of people in the years ahead."

Other comments on the issue


Plans for whale sharks at Sentosa

Sea Shepherds on the Whale Sharks at Sentosa IR
Letter from Grant W. Pereira
Asian Education Advisor Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
unpublished letter to the media

Not critical need to keep whales prisoners
Letter from Dudley Au Straits Times Forum 28 Oct 06

Activists against having a whale of a time
by Krist Boo Straits Times 26 Oct 06

Review the plans for marine park in Sentosa's integrated resort
Letter from Suganya Naidu Straits Times Forum 26 Oct 06

Marine animals in captivity don't contribute to conservation efforts
Letter from Goh Si Guim Straits Times Online 26 Oct 06

Sentosa IR: Just show us the money
Jasmine Yin Today Online 24 Oct 06

Nature groups against oceanarium at Sentosa

Letter from SPCA, NSS and Acres, Straits Times Forum 21 Oct 06

Rethink idea of having whale sharks in Sentosa lagoon
Letter from Thomas Paulraj Thamboo
Straits Times Forum 19 Oct 06

Aquarium showdown: It's a battle of gallons
The Straits Times 18 Oct 06

Georgia Aquarium

Georgia aquarium probes second whale shark death
By Daniel Yee, Associated Press Yahoo News 14 Jun 07

Georgia aquarium gets 2 new whale sharks
By Doug Gross, Associated Press Writer Yahoo News 1 Jun 07

Whale shark death sparks renewed debate on captivity
By Jim Tharpe The Atlanta Journal Constitution 12 Jan 07


Joseph Lai Tuck Kwong said...

It is definitely not conservation; worse, beneath the carnival, there lies a more sinister corruption of our children's minds and inflicts in them a disease that erodes compassion and logic - the capacity to feel and to think. It is a disease worse than death for our own kind, the human race. All parents, hoping to raise wholesome children, should never support this move by Resorts World Sentosa!

Joseph Lai Tuck Kwong said...

Dave Santucci's ready label for critics as 'elitist' should meet with his own label as 'parochial'. His view has no logic and does not deserve any rigorous debate.

Look to Jacques-Yves Cousteau and other universal beings like him instead for true goodness-to-nature education and stewardship - yes, minus all the 'carnival' and dark logic. Then, go and explore your local beach, and taking your time to sample the wonderous arrays of marine animals found there. Make sure you enjoy the wind, the sky, the waves and the sand beneath your feet too. Then tell me, please tell me, do you need to see and ride a whale to appreciate it or nature better?

Nature appreciation is such: it is eclectic in spirit and allows you to embrace universal truths about nature conservation, our world, our home, our heart, without molestation and selfish-centeredness.

See through the bright lights of the carnival and teach our children well.