Last week Ripley Entertainment Inc. publicly announced their intention to build a 150,000 sq. ft. aquarium at the base of the CN Tower in Toronto. The proposal is the latest in a string of aquarium proposals, including a previous one from Ripley, going back almost 10 years.
Apparently, the Ripley aquarium was going to be constructed in Niagara Falls, but increased security measures at the border, and the inevitable delays for US tourists crossing into Canada resulting from them, bumped the project to Toronto instead.
As usual, money talks and it seems the City of Toronto is behind the aquarium plan. It’s unfortunate that so many people are quick to jump on the aquarium bandwagon. While aquariums are often perceived as relatively benign institutions, they come with a number of very legitimate concerns, including animal welfare, that should be very carefully considered.
One of the biggest issues in recent years is the confinement of whales and dolphins. These wide-ranging, deep diving, highly intelligent, extremely social sea mammals are arguably among the worst candidates for captivity. Their physical and social environments are impossible to replicate in even the best captive situations. Whales and dolphins in captivity are typically relegated to impoverished lives in bathtub-like conditions that bear no resemblance to the environments they evolved over millennia to inhabit.
Ripley Entertainment hasn’t released a list of the animals they want to display, but their two US-based facilities don’t display whales or dolphins. Instead, they feature sharks and that’s what they’re talking about for Toronto.
Sharks are certainly a lot less controversial than whales and dolphins, but they’re not entirely controversy free. During the past few years, considerable concern has been expressed about the keeping of giant filter-feeding sharks (i.e., whale sharks) in captivity. These massive creatures travel thousands of miles in the wild foraging for plankton and small fish, but swim endlessly in tiny circles in captivity. The various species of pelagic sharks that traverse huge areas of open-ocean are also of concern. Wide-ranging creatures usually don’t do well in captivity.
No matter what shark species are being considered, their confinement in aquaria should not be taken lightly. Shark populations around the world have declined drastically and collection for live display is just one more pressure they don’t need. As well, the welfare of the individuals who are captured (yes, aquariums either capture or pay people to capture their stock) and confined is severely impacted.
While there seems to be increasing concern about the keeping of animals in zoos, most people don’t usually give the welfare of fish and other aquarium inhabitants a second thought. It’s time they did. Maybe then, they wouldn’t be so quick to jump on the aquarium bandwagon.