Tuesday, November 25, 2008

People and Marine Wildlife

In class we're learning about species conservation, endangered animals, and fishing of whales. What do you think about animals that are supposedly saved from the "dinner table" by being placed in aquariums? Is conservation being attained or are marine animals being exploited?

Can aquariums can be used as conservation tools? For example, the Georgia Aquarium hosts the "World's largest and most engaging aquarium." It boasts a "Ritz-Carlton"-esque home to its resident whale sharks, which are the world's largest fish and can grow up to 66 feet in length. The aquarium states that it is encouraging marine conservation and supporting research. The whale shark is listed on the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Animals as "indeterminate" status; little is known about the creatures, thus, any knowledge is beneficial, right? Furthermore, four whale sharks were proportedly saved from "Taiwan's kill quota, which means they would have ended up as food if they had not been brought to Atlanta".

Additionally, the aquarium advocates close contact with whale sharks in order for people to learn more about them (and have undeniably cool experiences they can tell friends about). Called the 'Swim with Gentle Giants' programme, six snorkelers and six divers can share the tank with the whales. Through the live webcam, you can also see the tank and fish from your home!

In spite of popularity among viewers, the aquarium's hosting of giant marine animals is controversial. For example, some past favorites entertainers, such as a Beluga whale, have been euthanized. The aquarium stated that the beluga "suffered from a string of chronic illness even before he came to the aquarium". However, overall, little is known about how wild marine animals do in captivity. For example, 4 aquarium whale sharks became sick from a tank chemical parasite treatment; they stopped treatment and the animals healed. During a later autopsy of one whale shark that died, scientists found that his death was due to a perforated stomach, most likely caused by the feeding tube. “Sometimes in science we learn as much through death as through life,” Mr. Swanagan, the aquarium’s president and executive director, wrote.

Some scientists refuse to attend a 2011 International Whale Shark Conference at the aquarium to protest the uncertainty and lack of science regarding keeping such animals captive.

Despite (or perhaps in response to) widespread controversial publicity, the aquarium is continuing to view large animals, such as the new guest/prisoner, Nandi: a young 9 foot winged female manta ray saved from entanglement in South African shark nets.

Shark photo fr. http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/conservation/whalesharkprogram.aspx
Belgua photo fr. John Amis/European Pressphoto Agency at
Manta photo fr. David Banks/CNN at http://www.cnn.com/2008/TRAVEL/08/25/manta.ray/index.html

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