A Whale of a Problem: The Cruelty of Keeping Marine Animals in Captivity
The one thing everyone says you need to do when visiting Atlanta is go to the Georgia Aquarium. When it first opened in 2005, it was the biggest aquarium in the world. Years later, it is the third largest in the world, and the largest in the United States. It contains 11 million gallons of water and is known as the largest aquarium in the western hemisphere. Over 18 million people have visited the Georgia Aquarium. When I visited last week, I thought the whole place was cool and I learned a lot, but it also made me sad.
Georgia Aquarium is the only aquarium in North America home to whale sharks, the biggest fish in the ocean. These creatures can grow to be approximately 40 feet long—a huge animal to keep in captivity. Only five aquariums in the world have one of these animals. To make things worse, I listened as the speaker described how the whale sharks came to be at the aquarium. In total, the aquarium is intended to hold four whale sharks: Ralph, Norton, Alice, and Trixie. Two of the whale sharks, Ralph and Norton, passed away in 2007, two years after the aquarium’s opening. Many have speculated that they died because of the lack of knowledge surrounding keeping these enormous animals in captivity. The other two whale sharks of the initial four also died years later. The aquarium is still home to four newer whale sharks.
These sharks live in a tank with 6.3 million gallons of water, which sounds like a lot, but it’s actually relatively shallow for such a large fish. Additionally, the way they transport these animals is inhumane. They are shipped via UPS from Taiwan in a special box made just for them. They showed the size of the box in the exhibit, and it was quite small. It looked like a tight fit in comparison to the whale shark. These tanks were designed to travel the whale sharks 8,000 miles by plane to Georgia.
Georgia Aquarium has not escaped the criticism all aquariums face about animal captivity. For all aquariums, there is not enough room for these animals to live a healthy and happy life. Wild cetaceans travel 40 to 100 miles a day. Therefore, even in one of the world’s largest aquariums, like Georgia, they are reduced to one millionth of their natural habitat. The life expectancy of many species of marine animals is much lower when kept in captivity compared to those that live in the wild. Keeping animals in these facilities leads to a significant increase in both physical and psychological suffering and creates stress. Additionally, only 5–10 percent of zoos, dolphinaria, and aquaria are involved in substantial conservation programs. Many report that they are going to great lengths to save our planet and the species that reside here. However, most of this is false information meant to gain public favor. When looking at the data, there are relatively few facilities actually putting in any real effort to make a difference in the world.
It’s clear that aquariums and zoos aren’t going away anytime soon. These creatures are being put on display in the so-called “name of education.” Going to visit these animals once a year may seem like a fun trip, but we must ask ourselves, at what cost? We are significantly reducing the quality of life for these animals. Is it really worth it?
Turning Heads: How the Schiaparelli Spring 2023 Collection Promotes Animal Objectification
On Jan. 23, Schiaparelli kicked off Paris Couture Fashion Week with arguably the designer brand’s most controversial show yet. Models strutted down the runway wearing dresses with hyper-realistic lion, wolf, and snow leopard heads made entirely without animal products, substituting them with humane alternatives like foam, faux fur, and resin. Kylie Jenner was photographed in one of these pieces, wearing a black dress adorned with a lion’s head on the shoulder. Schiaparelli posted these videos to their Instagram with the caption, “NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN MAKING THIS LOOK.” Many think that people are upset about and disturbed by these looks out of fear that they’re made with real fur and animal products. However, supporters of this collection don’t realize that this isn’t what’s causing such an uproar about these pieces.
Environmentalists and animal rights advocates aren’t angry because they’re worried about real animals being used in these looks. Rather, they’re understandably concerned about how this could promote animal objectification and potentially encourage people to want to use real animal heads in similar ways. As what normally happens during Fashion Week or with fashion in general, looks go viral and people want to replicate them. When designers depict animal heads as haute couture or high fashion, what’s to prevent people from replicating these looks with real animal heads? This is especially a cause for concern as poaching and trophy hunting still remain very prevalent and serious problems.
Lion heads and paws continue to be highly prized among poachers, and this line does nothing but further support this practice. Poaching is a prominent reason for why we’ve seen lion populations decrease by 43 percent over the past 21 years. Snow leopards are also commonly sought for their soft, spotted fur. According to Traffic, a UK organization that monitors the wildlife trade around the world, up to 450 snow leopards are poached every year, but the estimate could be greater as some poaching goes unnoticed. It’s irresponsible to display animal heads in this way, real or not, while endangered species continue to be exploited and unnecessarily killed for fashion and money. While using the heads of any animal as a fashion statement is irresponsible and objectifying, it’s even more alarming that these pieces featured a lion and snow leopard; both species are experiencing dramatic population declines. Many wolf species are also experiencing similar declines.
For some reason, we constantly use animals in fashion, whether that’s through fur coats, snakeskin boots, bags, or even leather. It seems as though we have a blatant lack of respect for animals, as we continue to perceive them as resources to be used and manipulated in whatever way we want. We see them as objects instead of living, sentient beings. While Schiaparelli’s animal heads aren’t real, it still promotes the view that we’re superior to animals, as their likeness is being used as a fashion statement.
It’s undeniable that the attention to detail and realism of the animal heads are unbelievable. The skill level needed to make these pieces is admirable which is why the collection is, understandably, receiving so much praise. You can’t argue that the artistry isn’t impressive; however, to ignore the potential consequences of this collection would be ignorant.
The goal of fashion has always been to push boundaries and cause controversy and conversation, but it seems as though the collection has taken this to another level. We need to value animals and prioritize their safety over the controversy.