WHALE SHARKS IN AN AQUARIUM – WHATEVER NEXT?

The Georgia Aquarium has 4 whale sharks in captivity. They are held in a pool the size of a football stadium and it is 10 metres deep. Although 2 of their previous sharks died all of the 4 sharks they have now appear to be doing well. As I told you the presentation made at the conference about the Georgia Aquarium was a very cohesive, coherent and illuminating account.

The whale sharks were taken from Taiwan. They were apparently on the slaughter list and if this is the case then they were indeed saved from a gruesome death. If you think about the mechanices involved in getting a whale shark from Taiwan all the way to Atlanta, Georgia you might start to appreciate the lengths they went to!! First they had to be found and coralled into a net at sea then herded into a netted pool where they were kept for some time (2 weeks I think). This gave the sharks a chance to get used to people.

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It also gave them a chance to get used to being hand fed.

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They were then scooped up out of this pool…

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And deposited into their container which would be home for the next 36 hours.

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Because they were so important they got a police escort to the airport like the proper VIPS they are! This was the only picture that made me smile during the presentation (albeit a rather small smile).

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And then they were loaded in the plane for the long journey to Atlanta. The plane was fully sponsored by UPS for USD 1 million, yes that’s right, USD 1 MILLION.

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When they arrived in Atlanta the same process was repeated and they were finally released into their new home. Divers were stationed round the edges so they could orientate themselves properly and not get confused by the glass. They are examined regularly and for the first time we get pictures like these: this is the inside of a whale shark’s mouth -

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They do regular gastric sampling which involves sticking a huge tube down their throats.

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And (drum roll please) the inside of a whale shark’s stomach – I bet you haven’t seen that before!

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Many people don’t agree with holding highly migratory animals in captivity. To be honest, I think it’s terrible. Volker, along with many others, disagrees with me. He says that everyone who goes to the aquarium and sees a whale shark will become a whale shark ambassador. I do hope he is right. I don’t agree with keeping a whale shark in an aquarium to make money (because let’s face it, that’s what this is really about). It has been scientifically proven that whale sharks dive down to hundreds of metres several times a day. They travel thousands of miles, peacefully cruising our seas. How can it be ok to stick them in a pool the size of football stadium? It doesn’t sit well with me. You are now able to swim with the whale sharks in the aquarium too for (I think) USD200.

Having said that, the Georgia Aquarium takes really good care of the sharks. They are healthy and seemingly happy. They are in much better shape than the poor sharks in the Japanese aquarium in Okinawa. Someone told me that the sharks there have sores on their fins from bumping into the glass all the time.

These kids are watching a whale shark and it’s probably the most amazing thing they have ever seen. The reasoning is that a lot of people will not have the opportunity to see a whale shark in the wild.

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Bruce Carlson was peppered with questions after his talk on the Georgia Aquarium. People wanted to know where they would get their whale sharks from in future now that Taiwan has banned the whale shark trade. He wouldn’t tell us. He did say something that struck me as true though – he said we don’t live in a perfect world. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to hold any animals in captivity at all. There is no doubt that we are learning a great deal about whale sharks thanks to those in the Georgia Aquarium. I suppose it’s all about where you draw a line and whether you feel the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

For me, I look at the misty mountains in the top picture of the Taiwanese coast where the sharks were captured and my overwhelming feeling is one of great sadness.

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One comment on “WHALE SHARKS IN AN AQUARIUM – WHATEVER NEXT?

  1. sheryl, washington dc on said:

    There is a fascinating account of how these whale sharks got to Georgia Aquarium in Dr. Lucy Spelman’s book “The Rhino With Glue-on Shoes.” It’s written by Howard Krum, MS, VMD, MA. He accompanied the sharks on their journey.

    I agree with Volker on the necessity of wildlife in captivity. I wish it weren’t necessary, but we live in a far-from-perfect world and we’re running out of time for some species. We have to engage human animals in caring about wildlife and this is one very effective method.

    Excellent post. Thanks,
    s.

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