Ethics of Aquariums

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By Paige Arden

The Miami Seaquarium. Seaworld. The Vancouver Aquarium.

It’s likely that every city you visit will have an aquarium of some sort, whether it be an outdoor marine park or an indoor set of tanks. This is because, despite any controversy associated with such a set of attractions, the exploitation of marine animals through captivity and showmanship is a billion-dollar industry.

There has been an ongoing debate about the ethics surrounding aquariums for years. Some say that they work strictly as a sort of rehabilitation process before the animals can be re-released to where they came from. The statements reckon that if an animal is kept in captivity for their whole life, it is only because they have been deemed unfit to return to natural life and would be unable to survive if they left human care.

However, if the main drive for these companies is to truly help the animals get better so that they can eventually be brought back to their natural habitats, then why put the marine creatures through the hardships associated with being a tourist attraction? Aiding the ill or injured in no way requires exploitation.

Studies have been done that prove that being held in captivity causes the animals significant mental stress- not the sort of thing that would help them “get better” quickly.

Animals have also suffered actual damage due to the way aquariums are run. Peptic ulcers are common in marine animals when faced with the pure sense of frustration that comes with knowing they are caged. They aren’t stupid animals- they know they’re in captivity and don’t understand why all these people that walk past and tap their tanks won’t help free them. These peptic ulcers often end in death.

Most fish possess spatial memories. These aid them in creating a sort of cognitive map by using their unique senses such as sound, sight and smell. Ideally, it guides them through the oceans. When they are locked up in small tanks, the creatures that are used to being free and navigating through thousands of kilometres daily feel the lack of freedom. They get bored with their monotonous lives and feel trapped and unable to escape. There is nowhere for them to explore or learn or grow their abilities. Each animal is stripped of anything that makes their life worth living, with the probability of them ever being released growing smaller and smaller with each day that passes.

Cleaning the tanks that the stressed animals spend every minute of their day trapped inside often includes the use of chlorine and copper sulphate. There have been records to show that this combination of cleaning supplies has caused the skin of some dolphins to begin to peel, much in the same way a human’s would from a bad sunburn. Dolphins and seals alike have been blinded while forced to live with the damaging chemicals. Yet, the general public persists with their defense of the industry and its mission statement of
“helping” the animals.

“Florida’s Sun-Sentinel examined 30 years of federal documents about marine animals and found that nearly 4,000 sea lions, seals, dolphins, and whales have died in captivity—and of the 2,400 cases in which a cause of death was listed, one in five animals died “of uniquely human hazards or seemingly avoidable causes.”’(Peta2)

Aquariums are aquatic prisons. While the theory of treating the injured animals and eventually helping them get back to their family in the wild is a nice one, it is hardly realistic and almost never what happens. Marine parks and aquariums make far too much money by showing off the “exotic” creatures to the public and exploiting their likeability.

The animals are miserable and without a way to ever escape.

To support aquariums and marine parks is to support the suffering of millions of beautiful sea creatures, as they are caged and left in unnatural waters to further the billion-dollar industry. It is time for the tourist attractions to wake up and weigh the consequences of what they are doing. After all, what are the profits made through each $15 ticket really worth in comparison to the prolonged depression of so many innocent beings?

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