Aquariums Don't Belong In The Future | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Aquariums Don’t Belong In The Future

Comment Writer Holly Pittaway reflects on her recent visit to L'Oceanografic in Spain, and why she now believes that aquariums should be boycotted

As a child I always loved aquariums. For me, they provided an opportunity to interact with animals that I would never be able to encounter in the wild. I could watch the penguins at feeding time, jumping and diving into the water to catch their food, I could marvel at the marine life swimming above and all around me in the shark tunnel, and I could admire the jellyfish floating in their tanks without fearing that they might sting me.

But I hadn’t been to an aquarium in a long time when I visited L’Oceanografic in Valencia, Spain this August. Opened in 2003, L’Oceanografic is the largest aquarium in Europe with a water capacity of 42,000,000 litres, allowing it to hold 45,000 animals of 500 species. The complex is home to everything from Beluga whales to flamingos, from crocodiles to ducks, and all things inbetween. Needless to say, it’s one of the most popular attractions in the city, with hundreds of tourists visiting every day.

When my family suggested we visit L’Oceanografic I was hesitant

When my family suggested we visit L’Oceanografic I was hesitant. I thought of myself as an animal lover, having just last year sworn off eating meat for life, so taking a trip to an aquarium in my mind seemed hypocritical. However, my brother was eager to go, and having just walked over 3km from the centre of the city to the Parque Scientifico I was in no mood to travel back just yet, so he convinced me to give it an albeit reluctant try.

The first thing that shocked me as we entered the complex was the price of tickets. An adult ticket cost nearly 30 euros, so as a family of four we immediately shelled out over 100 euros just for entry. There were easily another fifty or so people queuing behind us to buy their tickets, and with hundreds or possibly even thousands of people visiting every day, I couldn’t imagine how much revenue the park must have been taking. It was a money-making machine, a business based on profit just like any other.

We started our journey around the aquarium in the Mediterranean section, home to jellyfish and various other unusual sea creatures. There were large tanks full of hundreds of fish, all varying in size and species, interacting with each other in their artificial habitat. Curious children tapped on the glass, unaware of the disturbance this was creating for the animals. When you tap on the glass to a fish tank, not only might you scare the fish inside with the loud noise that this creates, but this also might cause the creatures to unexpectedly dart and subsequently sustain injuries by swimming into other objects at high speed. More worryingly, tapping glass can bring about unnatural vibrations in the water, which in turn could cause damage to a fish’s internal organs. Already we were bumping into ethical problems, and this was only the first exhibit at L’Oceanografic.

As we continued on to the shark tunnel, things were not looking up. While the shark tunnel was a much larger enclosure than any of the tanks in the Mediterranean section, it was not only filled with sharks but other fish and rays who also needed space to swim. By nature, sharks use between eight and thirteen senses as they swim, and when they are forced to live alongside other animals in such close proximity it can be confusing for them. Furthermore, wild sharks often travel up to 45 miles a day, but these guys were just swimming in constant circles, a journey that must have been enough to send them crazy. But the tourists were loving it, overcrowding the tunnel in order to take pictures with the terrifying sea predators.

How could this small tank compare to the unlimited ocean that they should be swimming in?

The final straw for me, however, was the Arctic exhibit, which was home to three beluga whales (one of which was born in captivity) and three walruses. The tanks in which these creatures lived were tiny, relative to their size, and while they looked well cared for and even happy to show off to the tourists, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. How could this small tank compare to the unlimited ocean that they should be swimming in? The fact is, these animals should not be in captivity. Just take a look at the tragic cases of Qila the Beluga, and Obie the Walrus, whose lives were both sadly shortened by living in zoos.

Overall, my trip to L’Oceanografic was eye-opening, and thanks to this experience I can firmly say that I will not be visiting any more aquariums in future. Right now, with documentaries like Blackfish becoming ever more popular, public conception of animal rights is moving in the right direction. I can only hope that more people become educated about the harmful and unnatural consequences of keeping animals in captivity.

2nd year History student and professional Peep Show enthusiast.


15th September 2018 at 12:00 pm

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