I am working through my thoughts on aquariums. I appreciate the research, conservation, and education sides of them. But, some questions.
What percentage of people are inspired by the education components to take action? How many visitors change their behaviors or mindsets due to exhibits? Or are they just a way to bring a nature documentary – packed unnaturally with wildlife so it seems that wilderness is bursting with high-velocity entertainment – into direct experience? How connected to the local community and local ecosystems are they? Do they further inspire the belief that interesting nature is elsewhere and that preservation of our backyard spaces isn’t as important?
Certainly Baltimore is no exception to many waterside strolls I’ve taken. There are some birds, some green space, a lot of pavement (the meandering riverbanks having been subsumed somewhere underneath the walking path), plastic flotsam floating around, and a nice breeze off the water, neon signs beckoning, the air scented with seafood specials. Then there is a beautiful, renowned aquarium to go with the waterfront.
When I go to aquariums or zoos, however rarely, I partially feel like I am at a living museum. The animals move around in a facsimile of their habitat, are fed and watered and left in social groups as appropriate, but their whole world is constricted to a set area. Maybe the educational trade-offs are worth it. On the other hand, their wild kin deals with this constriction with no guarantee of food, water, safety from humans with deadly weapons, safety from plastic, safety from rising temperatures and melting ice, safety from crashing into glass windows, safety from nests being crushed, no safety at all. What would the animals choose? Is that a fair choice to have them (hypothetically) make?
These puffins are safe. They are not being netted by hunters or eaten in a restaurant. But their water has no fish swimming in it. Their cliffs are not filled with thousands of clown-faced birds. But food is plentiful. Chicks will not starve because their parents can’t find proper prey. Scores of these puffins will not wash ashore, emaciated.
One of these puffins knifed through the water like a torpedo. It swam a few laps and hopped back out onto the rock, no fish to speak of. When that happens to its wild kin, there is no hand tossing oily fish from a bucket at a designated time. There is only another dive to attempt.