Monday, 12 September 2011


Most of us visited zoos as a child. My all time favourite was going to see the tiger ‘exhibition’ and it spurred years of love for this animal. But this memory has changed over the years. At the time I just saw a giant furry cat but now I remember the size of the enclosure was far too small for such a powerful animal. The Tiger was also alone, in captivity away from its own natural environment and species and above all it looked unhealthy and skinny.  I have since learnt that zoos are cruel and that no animal should be kept ‘behind bar’s. Like aquariums these animals are not free. But the subject is controversial.

The Shark Tank in the London Aquarium is far too small, the ray tank, far too accessible for people to touch them. Every one of those animals is undeniably unhappy. But some part of me admits that they serve a good purpose. It was a visit to the London Aquarium that made me want to become a Marine biologist. It was the same visit that partly got me into diving, and after a few years that diving has made me decide that I want to conserve marine life. A chain that may never have occurred if these places didn’t exist. 

Zoos and aquariums allow children to see animals that they would never get to see otherwise. How many people are fortunate enough to trek into the Indian jungles to see Tigers in their natural habitat? How many people are given the opportunity to dive with sharks…Its places like this that can start life long passions in people. Though cruel on the individual creatures stuck in captivity they can help their own kind in the long run. The question this begs to ask is ‘Is it right to keep animals in captivity for our own enjoyment?’. I say no. But I think in some small way its right to keep them for education. Of course I would prefer that aquariums didn’t exist, I would prefer it if humans completely left animals alone but that is never going to happen.

There are places that should never be allowed to exist though. Like Sea World. Keeping Dolphins in tiny tanks is downright cruel. Dolphins are amazing. They can swim 5-12 km’s an hour, and often swim 20/30 kilometres a day.  According to the Animal Welfare act an Orca tank must be a minimum of 14 metres wide with a straight line down the middle. Males typically range from 6-8 metres long and females 5-7. Their tanks are barely twice the size of them. That’s like a human being stuck in a 4 metre box for their whole life. Many of the dolphinariums get their dolphins from the same cove run in Taiji where the 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered annually. So by visiting Sea World and similar places you are actively funding and condoning the deaths of thousands of dolphins a year. As Ric O’barry famously said:

‘A dolphins smile is natures greatest deception’.

Dolphins don’t control their facial expressions. They may appear to be ‘smiling’ but they’re not.

Animals shouldn’t be kept in boxes, but if they have to be it should be for education not entertainment. It also sparks up the debate of keeping fish as pets. There are fish in my house, they're not mine and I would prefer not to be associated with keeping marine life locked up. People are always mistaken in thinking fish are boring. 'They do nothing' is the common complaint. What do you want from them?! They're not going to prance around the tank balancing balls and jumping through hoops, they simply want to survive. But they are amazingly interactive. I placed the end of my one of my fingers into the tank last night to see their reaction and they were  fascinated. First the big one came and 'puckered' my finger then the others courage grew and the little minows were dancing around it, tapping it with their mouths, fins and bodies. They were curious. Fish do think, they are intelligent and their memories are longer than 3 seconds. 

At the end of the day we have to stop abusing animals for our own gain.  They were not put on this planet to entertain us.

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