Last weekend, my family went to Nagoya. The impetus was a concert by a local chorus my wife had once belonged to, but since it was an overnight stay, we also had a chance to take our daughter sightseeing. It came down to a choice between the zoo and the aquarium. We chose the aquarium, mainly because it was hot outside. It did help that our daughter liked water in general, though.
Nagoya City Aquarium‘s main attraction is its dolphins. Signs claimed it was a “Japanese dolphin,” and that it was smaller than the well-known bottle-nosed dolphin…although it looked like one to me. The black-streaked Japanese dolphin apparently lives mostly in the Sea of Japan (or is it the East Korean Sea? Frankly, whichever is fine with me. No interest at all in naming politics.) The Japanese version of Wikipedia claims that there are over 30 kinds of dolphins living around Japan. No idea. Dolphins look like dolphins to me. Anyway, our daughter had a fun time watching the aquarium staff feed and talk to them just inches away from us.
The aquarium also had a few beluga whales and of course the prerequisite manta rays, conger eels, and assorted tropical fish. As we wandered through the dimly-lit corridors from building to building, inside under-pool view area to above-ground outdoor show arena, I couldn’t help feeling that the tanks were far too small to hold all the variety of fish, let alone such large animals as whales. Even the penguins looked cramped, stuck in a dark subterranean grotto with fake white-painted backdrop and plexiglas.
It so happened that around the time my baby was enjoying the whales, porpoises, and penguins in Nagoya, a baby beluga at an aquarium in Vancouver died due to (alleged) mishandling by aquarium staff. An editorial by a Vancouver newspaper decried not only the death, but also the very fact that “large mammals” are kept at aquariums anywhere in the world. Such animals no longer need be kept in artificial environments for our amusement, according to the opinion piece. We can all watch them on high definition discs at home.
Even in Japan, renowned naturalist C. W. Nicol has written in support of ending the practice of keeping whales and dolphins at aquariums. His opinion is that he would rather see them in their natural environment, the ocean.
Noble ideas. And also impractical in both cases, as well as uneducational, for the vast majority of people. Not all of us can afford HD TV or ocean-going voyages. My family was able to see live whales and dolphins relatively easily and cheaply in a short amount of time. We didn’t even bother staying for the “show,” which appears to be one reason aquarium detractors want to release all mammals from aquariums. The point was to educate my daughter by allowing her to come face to face with live, breathing animals. I seriously doubt my daughter would have been excited enough to point and say “Fish! Fish da!” at a video. There’s a big difference between seeing/hearing a living creature in person and watching one on a TV screen.
And sure, it would be great to go on a whale sighting expedition. But we can’t afford the time or the money to take a boat into the middle of the ocean to see dolphins, and even if we could, my daughter wouldn’t be able to get so close she could make eye contact. I certainly hope she has the chance (and the money) to go out into the ocean to see whales and dolphins when she’s in high school or college, but now is the time to get her in touch with the world. Who knows what she’ll want to do when she gets older.
This is a blog about raising my daughter, not about politics, so I don’t to want to delve any further into The Cove, Sea Shepherd, and other controversial topics currently popular on the blogosphere. However, I would like to add that the aquarium staff I saw in Nagoya were not only enjoying their jobs of feeding and caring for the animals under their care, they also obviously took pride in their work and were pleased to answer questions about the dolphins from the crowd during feeding time. If aquariums had more money, either from private sources or from government funding, it seems to me that these animals could be given a bigger, more natural habitat, which would make their lives more enjoyable for them, as well as improve the educational opportunities for visitors to the aquarium. And if people see dolphins in person, up close, they might just think twice before trying to eat them in the future.
I support public aquariums and zoos, if properly funded and operated. The capture, transport, and caring of large animals for aquariums and zoos should be strictly regulated by world governments, just as other large business ventures are regulated. Closing all the aquariums and zoos in the world is not only a simplistic and unrealistic fantasy, it also hinders science and educational opportunities for both young and old. Making it so only the rich can enjoy the beauty and awe of these majestic creatures would decrease the quality of life for the rest of us.
And that’s my two yen. Shoot, maybe we should have gone to the zoo, instead…