Welcome or welcome back everyone. To re-kick things off here I am going to actually take a look back at my very first blog that I posted back in 2012. It's a question that has become a massive debate since then and one that I had largely kept away from outside of some thoughts on Blackfish. It's been six years since I posted that blog and thoughts and feelings change, so before getting into all the stuff I'd like to get into here, I'd like to take a few minutes and share some thoughts.
Aquariums, when done right can really be an incredible tool in raising awareness and helping conservation efforts of marine life. Yes, there are aquariums with dirty secrets, play dirty, and are a direct link to several species being exploited. That said, it is not all of them. The majority of Aquariums that you will find (in the United States anyway) have the primary goal of educating the public about the animals that they house. Honestly many of these are not animals that people will just sit at home and look up for themselves. These aren't elephants and lions that have been in the media for years and years. These are smaller animals like horseshoe crabs, sea stars, and menhaden that many people don't even know exist. They don't know they exist and they certainly don't know any issues they may be facing. Sure a lot of people have seen Jaws, but most have never even seen a real shark and are petrified of them from a movie. That's where the aquarium comes in as a massive tool for learning. Overall, the good that aquariums are doing largely outweigh the bad. Again, there are certain facilities that value entertainment and show over education. It's up to you to decide for yourself which is a good versus a bad one though. My feelings and my experience tells me that the majority of these facilities are by no means as awful as the media has stated in the years since Blackfish.
Dolphins and captivity has been a debate that has raged on for a while now. It is one that I have so many mixed feelings about, but I feel like I can summarize it as this. Years ago, before Flipper or Free Willy came out, people were nowhere near as into dolphins as they are today. Back then dolphins were in a similar spot as so many other marine animals. Very little was known (we've only really started to understand them now) and people just didn't care that much. Since then the popularity of dolphins and our knowledge of what they are capable of has exploded. Dolphins, much like pandas, lions, and other notable mammals have the attention of the world. Is there a need for them in captivity though? I have mixed emotions on it. The thing is, it sounds like these animals are very much aware of their situation in captivity. They are incredibly social and wickedly smart. Should an animal like that be contained? I lean towards no honestly. I see the educational benefits. They are there and they are extremely valid. My feeling though is that these animals are popular enough that they do not need to be in captivity for people to take an interest in them. I sit on the beach here and anytime a pod of dolphins comes by it captivates the beach. Not for the silly behaviors and tricks that they can do, but for what they are. With all of that being said I do believe there is a special place in aquariums for dolphins that are no longer fit for the wild and require extra help to survive. Those that have been hit by boats, abandoned, sickly, and otherwise injured are prime examples of this situation.
This is an easy one for me. I don't think whales have a real place in captivity. Many of the same reasons I feel this way can are the same as the dolphin category. Again, I understand the educational aspect of it, but again we are dealing with animals of great intelligence that know full well of the situation that they are in. At this point there really are only a few species of whale that are in captivity to begin with, but I do believe that enough people care about these animals that we don't need to be taking more of them out of the wild at this point. That could always change, but that's my feelings on it at the moment.
Rays come in all shapes and sizes. When people hear the term "ray" the first thing that normally comes to mind is a sting ray. The disc shaped bottom dwelling sting ray. I feel like that's a problem. There are all kinds of rays out there. Some massive like the manta ray, others not. Whatever the case, people do not know anywhere near enough about these animals. Many people would be hard pressed to even recognize that different species of rays exist as opposed to just "sting rays". Walk into an aquarium and chances are you will see many species of ray, sometimes within the same tank. Each one vastly different from the other, but you would never have known it. We know so little about these animals and their presence in aquariums is nothing but a good thing for many of the species in existence. Side note: Keeping large species of ray in tanks that are too small is not acceptable at all...
Saved the best for last. Sharks in captivity are pivotal to their survival. The other species that I have typed about so far all have their fair share of issues, but sharks are a very special in regards to this blog. Unless you've lived in an area with no technology (how are you reading this?) over the past well thirty plus years, chances are you have probably heard something about the animal known as the shark. Chances are also probably pretty high that you haven't heard many good things about sharks. Sadly sharks in the media very rarely get any form of positive statements. It's usually reports of sharks biting people or Shark Week shows full of bloody waters and what not. I digress. Sharks are needed in captivity today to make sure that these animals are around in the future. Millions upon millions of sharks are being killed every year for a variety of reasons (though none really legitimate) and largely, nobody knows. Will there be a white shark years from now? How about a thresher shark? It's entirely possible there wont be unless people act, continue to act, and continue to work to save them. The first step in doing that is educating people that these animals are not the blood thirsty creatures that we see on the big screen. I know many people who won't step foot in the Ocean because they think a shark will kill them instantly. It's not good.
Aquariums are leading the charge in education when it comes to sharks. The truth is out there, but many people will only believe what they see on T.V. until they see it for themselves. At an aquarium you'll see sharks coexisting with other animals and not constantly tearing them apart. You'll see that there is intelligence there outside of mindless eating machines. You'll learn just how incredible their senses are and just how sensitive these animals can be. No, they're not as cute and cuddly as the panda at the zoo, but that doesn't matter and the role they play in the world far surpasses many others on land or in the sea.
To wrap this whole thing up, Aquariums still have a place in the world. It's been a debate. Some people want every animal freed, some want none freed, some want marine mammals freed, and some want specific species freed or at least placed in sea pens or something. I fall into the last category overall. Sharks, rays, and countless other marine life need some form of representation. Whale and dolphin watching is a huge thing now. They don't need to be in a tank. What about those not near a coast that wants to see them? It's a part of life. Not everyone is near everything. If you live in the Midwestern United States and want to see some crazy animal not found in any nearby zoo, you have to travel. Some animals just don't do well in captivity and history shows us that cetaceans aren't really the best in captivity. Not saying there wasn't a time for them, but I think that time has largely passed. As far as other marine life. Aquariums remain a hope for the survival of the species.