Georgia Aquarium loses another animal, debate about captive animals renewed

Posted Monday, December 3, 2007 9:53 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Marina the beluga whale died Saturday morning, held close by people who had tried to help her in those final hours. She'd stopped eating about two weeks ago and became so disoriented that she hurt her snout while swimming. She had ulcers. Her helpers wept as Marina's heart sounded its final beats. The four deaths resurrect the simmering disagreement between those who see the value of having animals on display and people opposed to zoos, aquariums or any facility that keeps animals in exhibits.

Read more from The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Monday, December 3, 2007 11:07 AM
Animals never die in the wild. Only when humans keep animals do they perish. In nature, they are immortal.
Monday, December 3, 2007 12:03 PM
Don't you think that a premature comment to make? Did you even read the article? Two of the animals may have died because humans put chemicals in the water that could have damaged their nervous system. These other deaths could very well be stress related.
Monday, December 3, 2007 12:40 PM
And in the wild whales have to contend with illegal whaling, boat propellers, polution, changing climate, etc. Humans are going to have an effect on animals no matter what their habitat is.
Monday, December 3, 2007 1:23 PM
So it's good for them to be kept in captivity? I'm not sure the point you are trying to make. It appears this beluga whale died because of stress. Anyone who has dealt with the captivity of exotic animals know stress is big problem that has to be avoided. When animals are under constant stress, they die. It can often be difficult to tell what is causing an animal to stress. I'm not saying it's immoral to keep an animal in captivity, but it needs to be done correctly.
Monday, December 3, 2007 3:20 PM
I think to some degree, you also play certain odds in a facility that big where you have that many animals. I'm not saying that their environment didn't contribute to their early death, but there's still a perspective to keep.

I still maintain that what we can learn and understand from zoos and aquariums far outweighs the cost, even in these cases. I was married to a tree-hugging vegetarian biologist, and she felt much the same way because there is scientific value. There's a lot of political value too. I doubt there'd be any effort to "save the whales" (or a certain Star Trek movie) without the role that marine parks and aquariums have in getting them in front of us and creating awareness.

Monday, December 3, 2007 11:53 PM
If the marine mammals in captivity aren't being monitored for nearly 24-hours a day by a trained and dedicated staff, being fed on a regular basis, kept disease free --- they're off in the wild dealing with the pressures of illegal whaling, boating accidents, dealing with oceanic parasites and diseases, being preyed on by larger predators, having to often go days without food, etc.

Sucks either way for them. At least with capitivity, you can generate sympathy and public awareness to conserve and protect the world's oceans.

*** This post was edited by kRaXLeRidAh 12/4/2007 5:59:07 PM ***

Monday, December 3, 2007 11:59 PM
I very much believe that there is intrinsic scientific and environmental value in keeping animals in captivity and on display for the public. My concern is that facilities, especially for these bigger animals like whales and sharks, are woefully undersized and simply inadequately designed.

If you care to look up the details of orcas kept in captivity, the average lifespan is a fraction of what it is in the wild. I don't have the figures on hand, but in my view they ultimately show that there is something fundamentally wrong with the system in place.

No great white shark has ever survived in captivity because there is no facility in the world large enough for their swim patterns that they use to sleep/rest. Yet fishermen keep netting them and aquariums keep putting their hands up to take them into captivity and they promptly die.

I'd be very interested to know the comparative life spans and overall health of land mammals kept in confined "traditional" zoos versus those in more spacious and natural zoos. I'm sure studies have been done and I'd think it'd go a long way to ending these sorts of debates.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 1:59 PM
They should just put all the animals in one big tank together.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007 2:49 PM
^And call it the Pacific Ocean. ;)

I'm pretty much on board with the view that captive animals aren't neccesarily a bad thing. But in many cases, larger habitats are definitely needed.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 6:03 PM
auscoasterman said:

No great white shark has ever survived in captivity because there is no facility in the world large enough for their swim patterns that they use to sleep/rest. Yet fishermen keep netting them and aquariums keep putting their hands up to take them into captivity and they promptly die.

I guess some of you just don't keep up with the current events. Because it's not true, anymore. :)

(1) Great White Shark @ Monterey Bay Aquarium in 2005

(2) Great White @ Monterey Bay Aquarium in 2006

  • Male Specimen
  • In captivity/on exhibit for 4.5 months (second longest period of time a great white has been kept alive in captivity)
  • Released in healthy condition
  • Length of 5-foot-8 and 103 pounds when he arrived to a size of 6-foot-5 and 171 pounds upon release.

(3) Great White @ Monterey Bay Aquarium in 2007

FYI, the sharks were released because the aquarium decided they were reaching a size where it would eventually become too difficult to safely transport them back into the wild. White Sharks (the "Great" has officially been dropped from its common name) can grow to more than 15-feet

*** This post was edited by kRaXLeRidAh 12/4/2007 6:23:28 PM ****** This post was edited by kRaXLeRidAh 12/4/2007 6:25:22 PM ***

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 8:16 PM
I was somewhat familiar with Moterey Bay Aquarium's recent sharks but I appreciate the more detailed information; six months in captivity doesn't go anywhere to prove that these animals can be kept long-term in captivity. These sharks that have been "successfully" kept in captivity have been young and a fraction of the size of full-grown great whites. By their own admission they are removing them before they grow too large. The simple fact is the swim patterns of these sharks require containment areas larger than any presently available. I can tell you with 100% certainty that the 56ft tank at Monterey Bay is woefully insufficient for an adult.

Great white shark is a common name; there is no officialty involved. Whether one region favours one name (be it great white, great white shark, white shark, white pointer, white death) doesn't refute the others.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007 3:50 PM
^ I was just refuting your statement that all white sharks can't survive in captivity and how they "promptly die" when put in captivity. They obviously can be kept alive and healthy within the confinements of an exhibit as the Monterey Bay Aquarium has come to show in three separate examples.

It's a no-brainer that no aquarium or marine facility currently in existence is capable of caring for and housing a fully grown adult white shark due to safety concerns for staff as well as the well-being of the other species sharing the tank. However, that's a completely different argument.

Thursday, December 6, 2007 7:28 AM
But in refuting my original statement you took it out of its original context, which was that of adult marine animals in captivity. If you see keeping a juvenile shark for a period of six months as a measure of the viability and success of keeping this species in captivity, then that's where we're seeing things differently. I'm sure there have been thousands of instances of great whites being reared from a young age in captivity, but this doesn't go any way to prove

The fact is, and this is scientific fact, not my opinion, is that sharks swim in circular patterns to basically sleep. The larger the shark the larger the circle, and the fact is that most are far too small. Safety of staff and other species would be of little concern to any properly designed facility, which goes back to my original point.

I should add that at Sea World here in Australia they have a facility with a main pool approximately 200ft in length dedicated solely to large sharks named Shark Bay. They have several tiger sharks currently on exhibit which would be around the 10-12ft mark (they grow to be about as large as great whites in these waters) but they haven't been able to try a great white for the simple reason that none have been caught in local waters since it was built. I suspect one day they will get one in and if there's one facility that has a chance of keeping great whites successfully, it'd be this one.


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