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?
The Tragic End of Alexander the Ant
The sun rose very slowly over a large field of grass. It was a lazy summer afternoon. People were taking walks, having picnics, feeding the ducks, or just laying down. What they didn’t know was that right under their noses in the blades of grass was a little ant fighting for his life. Now the ant in question wasn’t in any danger, at least not yet, but he was fighting a battle between it and all the other insects in that field. Needle in hand and armor on, the little ant warrior was holding its ground–not letting any of his contestants survive. This ant was not alone because he had a partner who wasn’t nearly as into fighting monsters and was cowering underneath a tiny rock fearing for his safety.
“You know, typically when there are giant monsters we run away from them! Not go charging head first into battle!”
The knight ant just laughs.
“But then how would we win any glory? Come now, Clark, if we took the coward’s way out then someone would beat us to it!”
Clark just deadpans underneath the rock, his voice full of exasperation.
“Yeah but if you die, then where’s all that glory go? Have you thought about that Alexander?”
Alexander drives his needle into the head of a giant centipede and it falls to the ground, writhing as it dies. Once it does, Alexander sits down on its corpse and looks deep in thought.
“Where would all the glory go…? I do not know! But I am not dead nor can I die so that is a problem I do not have to worry about!”
Clark comes out from his hiding spot and carefully maneuvers his way through the battlefield, trying to avoid touching the scattered remains of other larger bugs until he’s made his way in front of Alexander.
“Please. You gotta understand that you aren’t immortal. You keep throwing your life at every giant creature hoping that by dying you secure more of a name for yourself but you don’t, all you do is put your own life in danger, why do you think I come on these horrifying adventures? It’s to be the voice of reason in your head that you clearly don’t have.” Alexander places a hand on Clarks shoulder and nods.
“I appreciate your concern, dearest friend, but you have nothing to worry about! There is nothing in this world that can kill me!”
Suddenly a huge shadow falls over Clark and Alexander, it falls over most of the land around them, they look up to see a giant pink monster. Its green spheres focused and centered on both of them. It lets out a booming roar. “Ant!” and a giant pink meat stick descends from the heavens smashing into the ground next to them causing the ground to shake intensely. Clark runs for cover.
“Shit! It’s a giant! We gotta go!” His gaze falls onto Alexander who hasn’t moved. “What are you doing? Get the hell out of there!”
But Alexander doesn’t move, instead he charges directly at the giant pink meat stick. Much to Clark’s fear.
“What are you doing?”
Alexander just laughs.
“Think of the glory!”
“You idiot! It’s like 400 times your size! You’re going to die!”
Alexander laughs again.
“I’ll only die if I’m killed!”
Clark shakes his head in confusion.
“Wh..What! That’s what being killed means, you idiot!”
Alexander had made his way onto the pink meat stick and the giant let out another loud roar.
“Mom! The ant is on my finger! I think it likes me!”
Clark continues to cower behind some blades of grass.
“It noticed you! You hear its war cry? Come down here before it murders you!”
But Clark’s pleading fell on deaf ears as Alexander was already making his way up the arm of the giant dodging hands and holding onto dear life when the giant shook its arm trying to get the ant off. By this point the small giant had started to panic because the ant wasn’t getting off their arm and had called a much bigger giant to come help. The bigger giant towered over the smaller giant. And was also trying to remove the ant. And yet Alexander evaded every attempt made. Which bewildered the large giant as they had never seen an ant move with such efficiency and skill. Throwing itself further up the giant’s body, unable to be squished. From Alexander’s point of view, he was unstoppable, they were no match for his speed and skill. And he was going to make his way up to the top of that giant. Meanwhile Clark, who had been watching the whole thing, stood there in shock. Alexander had done it. He had reached the top of the giant. Clark, full of disbelief, was stunned for a moment. He had done what was seemingly impossible. Clark’s mind raced with both excitement and worry. His friend made it to the top but wanted him to be safe on the ground again as soon as possible. Clark calls up to him again.
“Okay, you did it! You climbed the giant now, please get down here before you hurt yourself!”
But Alexander wasn’t done. He had climbed the monster and now he was going to slay it. Taking up his needle he stabs it into the top of the giant’s head causing said giant to wail in pain and start running in a direction. This causes Alexander to let out a triumphant cheer.
“I’ve got them on the run now! They’re as good as dead!”
Due to his triumph Alexander chooses to not come down, and due to the giant running away it separated the two ants from one another never to be seen again. A few hours later Alexander was found by a doctor and killed. Clark made it home safely, grieving the fact that he got separated from his friend. They sent out several search parties and all came back empty. They deemed Alexander dead. However, that wasn’t the end of his story as all throughout the ant kingdom stories were sung of the warrior ant that felled a giant by himself. And through those songs Alexander lived on.
Night begins to move, writhing and seething as the bristled backs catch the light of the dropping sun. Among the red rock lives a creature who carries night on his back and stars in his eyes.
The cicada calls to him from his place along the ravine scarred by waters now long dry.
Those who nestle in the red rock carry the history of the lost.
The Cocopah tribe, the cowboys, each driven out.
The creature among the rock, the javelina, their tribe becoming lost.
Soon the blood orange of the rock, the yucca, and the crimson of the berries in the underbrush won’t be enough.
Soon the javelina will have to engage with the streets
Will have to understand humans in his desert home.
The javelina speaks through a bristled muzzle, “I have understood the desert without them, it is sweeter than the blooms of the prickly pear. It is sweet like the rain. It is bright and calming like the red rock.”
The cicada sings his jagged song of mourning.
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.