Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Little Concern for Sharks

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.

Rob Laidlaw

1 comment:

  1. Rob Laidlaw, Dec. 17, 2009:

    "Here’s the problem. The Calgary Zoo is already accredited by both organizations. That the means the zoo has already met or exceeded their accreditation standards which they say are among the toughest anywhere. If they’re already accredited by both organizations and the animal deaths and incidents continue, why go back to those same organizations for another review. Wouldn’t it make more sense to look elsewhere for new expertise?

    My faith in the pending independent external review is also undermined by the comments of CAZA national director Bill Peters. In a December 12th Globe and Mail article Mr. Peters said, take out break here….“Yes, there has been a series of unfortunate incidents and they've been looked at and reports have been done in the various occurrences, but is there a pattern? No, I don't think there's a pattern there.”

    Given the number of animal deaths and incidents, I find it remarkable that anyone would think there wasn’t a pattern. It seems to me that because they all occurred at the same facility within a fairly compressed timeframe that alone establishes a pattern."

    Rob Laidlaw, June 18, 2010

    "The report mentions an unusually high death rate (higher than comparable facilities), poor collection planning, inadequate staff training, poor communcation, as well as inadequate animal care procedures, security and infrastructure maintenance. It also says the zoo was focused on acquiring attraction animals that it didn’t have the expertise to care for and that enhancing the visitor experience was often accomplished to the detriment of the animals."

    When does someone hold Mr. Laidlaw accountable for his ill-informed, contradictory and inflammatory comments? Time to get out of downtown Toronto and mingle with someone other than your smug, self-righteous, latte guzzling pals, Rob.