Aquarium should admit captivity hurts these fish
Atlanta Journal Constitution
Published on: 06/15/07
We are saddened and disturbed by the untimely death of Norton, the second whale shark to succumb while in the custody of the Georgia Aquarium.
The aquarium justifies holding whale sharks for the purpose of educating the public, preserving endangered animals and conducting research. None of these points holds water.
The aquarium has produced no credible evidence 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).
Looking at these animals in downtown Atlanta may seem educational, or at least, harmless, but in fact it teaches us exactly the wrong ecological lessons.
Instead of cultivating our understanding of the importance of an animal's habitat (and thus, the need to stop desecrating the oceans with the runoff from our industrial and commercial activities), aquarium displays suggest that habitats are irrelevant to the animal's well-being. Perhaps the most important fact about whale sharks is that they are classified as a vulnerable species (only one step better than endangered) by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
The Georgia Aquarium has done nothing to "educate" the public about the fact that by purchasing these animals from Taiwanese fishermen, they financially support the very industry that has led to their threatened status.
Whale sharks are so wonderfully mysterious to us: There's so much we don't know about them (how long they live, where they travel, how they feed, how they reproduce, how far they swim, even how many of them there are).
Can't we leave these mysteries unknown and leave the sharks in peace?
Every animal has an innate dignity, and keeping them captive in these tanks is a transgression of that dignity. We aren't meant to see whale sharks in this way: It isn't natural. The whole enterprise of spectatorship, as it takes place at the aquarium, is fundamentally and inherently flawed. If we aspire to honor and understand nature and ecological harmony, then we cannot continue to displace and degrade animals as we have done in the past.
The Georgia Aquarium should step up and do the right thing by admitting that they made a mistake in taking these animals into captivity and stop hiding behind the empty promises of education, conservation and research. They can set an ethical example for the rest of the captivity industry.
It is their choice as to whether they will rise to the occasion.
• Randy Malamud is professor and associate chair of modern literature, ecocriticism, and cultural studies at Georgia State University. Lori Marino is senior lecturer in neuroscience and behavioral biology at Emory University. Contributing to this column were Ron Broglio, assistant professor of literature, communication, and culture at Georgia Tech, and Nathan Nobis, assistant professor of philosophy and religion at Morehouse College.