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Ethical debate: Sharks in captivity

January 30, 2009

I recently had an interesting debate on the discussion board of the Facebook Cause “Save the Sharks”, where I am an administrator. The cause has over 50,000 members in over 100 countries and is a wonderful resource for the shark conservation community. I would encourage anyone on facebook to check it out here. I’ve taken excerpts from the debate and reproduced them here- I am curious about what everyone thinks about this issue.

One of our members posted an online petition and asked us to sign it. Though it addresses a specific case, the gist of this petition- and this member’s viewpoint- is that aquariums are bad because they “enslave animals” and because they are “only for profit”. The member also stated that sharks “want to be in the wild with their families”.

This is a complex debate that isn’t going away anytime soon, but I had several comments in response to this post.

1) Educating people about sharks is HARD. People are predisposed to believe that they are dangerous killing machines, and that we’re better off without them. It is IMMEASURABLY easier to teach people about sharks when I can point to a live example and say “look, he isn’t so big and bad”. It is also easier to get someone interested in learning about sharks after they’ve seen a live one. Children’s faces light up when the see a shark, and they immediately start asking questions of everyone nearby. In my opinion, any negative results from placing sharks in captivity are more than outweighed by the enormous benefit to education that captive sharks provide.

2) Sharks do not “want” anything, they are animals. Andrew recently wrote an excellent post on this same issue with dolphins and I have nothing to add to it other than to say that we have interesting folks in the shark community as well. To my knowledge, no human has ever “made love” with a shark, however (check the comments to Andrew’s post if you don’t understand what I’m talking about)

3) Sharks do not have “families”. Most are solitary when not mating, none are monogamous, and none display any sort of parental care. This isn’t even a case of anthropomorphizing; it’s just sheer ignorance of basic facts about an issue. Though no one can deny that this member is passionate about this subject, I wish that they and others would actual bother to learn about an issue before speaking publicly and loudly about it. Enthusiasm is no substitute for knowledge.

For my other comments, I will provide exact quotes of what I initially wrote.

4) “I must object to your blanket generalization that “captivity is not about education or conservation, it is about profit”. People who work at aquaria love nature and love teaching people about the environment. If they wanted profit, there are plenty of jobs that pay much more. Most aquaria are registered not-for-profit organizations that rely on donations to operate.”

5) “Also, doing something “for profit” is not a bad thing. When a business profits, they give more people jobs. When a conservation-based business profits, they can donate more money to their cause.”

Though this example references sharks, it is broadly applicable. What does everyone think? Is it wrong to place animals in captivity for education purposes? Do uneducated but passionate people help or harm a cause?


85 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2009 1:32 pm

    I have to say I agree with you on every point. While it’s lamentable that some aquariums are really profit-driven and do not care as much about the animals as they should, that’s hardly the case for most. And every person I have met who works at an aquarium cares deeply for the animals there. Most, if not all, make crap for pay and only do it because it means they get to work with and share their favorite creatures with the general public. I don’t support capturing scores of live animals to utilize in aquariums – but again, most animals I know of (though I don’t know the details of the sharks) come from breeding programs or accidentally caught and rehabbed individuals.

    And I find it hard to believe that even if they had “wants” they would, guaranteed, want freedom over life in an aquarium – if they’ve got space/food/etc that is more than adequate, they might just enjoy a care-free life with ample food and no predators or worries. Just because, as complexly intelligent animals, we might not want captivity, that doesn’t mean others wouldn’t, particularly ones whose brains are so different from ours its unimaginable.

    Also, sometimes captive animals aren’t just for educating the public – they can educate scientist even more. Just being able to observe, monitor, and the like animals that are hard to in the wild can be very beneficial in understanding their ecology and how to protect them.

    That said, I do, somewhat, take issue with keeping large, pelagic species in captivity. Mostly, though, it is due to the fact that we seem utterly incapable of providing a truly healthy environment, and they don’t do well. Like keeping a whale shark in captivity, for example. For some animals, it really is better that we set them free, because we have yet to figure out how to make a suitable habitat for them. If someone does, by all means, keep them in captivity.

  2. February 1, 2009 3:23 pm

    I agree to a point. I think what happens is people project human attributes on to animals. It’s the same reason they don’t understand why when they go in the ocean the shark just can’t “share,” the water. They don’t understand the attack that occurs (the few that happen that is.)

    However, I don’t agree with places like the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, that have built a water slide that goes through a tank holding sharks and spills out into a pool. I don’t care how well they take care of that giant aquarium, it’s not right. Exhibits like that should not be allowed.

    The other commenter added an issue about Whale sharks. I’m curious to know what your feelings about the Georgia Aquarium are, specifically towards them keeping Whale sharks. I’ve visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium every time they’ve been able to display a Great White Shark and I am thankful for it. It think they are making great strides in understanding the Shark.

    With all this being said, I don’t agree with keeping Whales and dolphins in captivity just for our pleasure to see them “jump,” in the air and get us wet. I think it’s a disservice to them and the Pods that Sea World took them from.

    On a side note, I like your blog!

  3. whysharksmatter permalink*
    February 1, 2009 3:26 pm

    I’m glad to hear that you like the blog, and thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    I’ll be happy to expand on my thoughts in the near future, but as a Pittsburgh native, I am presently busy preparing for a Super Bowl party.

    In general, here’s what I think- ANYTHING that increases the economic value of keeping sharks ALIVE is a good thing for the group as a whole, even if it may be worse for some individual sharks.

  4. February 2, 2009 10:45 pm

    Just to echo what everyone else has said: I agree with you completely on this one – I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “In my opinion, any negative results from placing sharks in captivity are more than outweighed by the enormous benefit to education that captive sharks provide.”

    Not everyone in the world is an animal nut, and most people only really learn about animals when they see them in captivity. I think it’s one of the best ways to educate, really. Providing the sharks are well cared for, I don’t think keeping them in captivity is necessarily a bad thing.

  5. Emily permalink
    February 3, 2009 4:42 am

    Generally I really like your blog, but I thought that while most sharks don’t have any family links the nurse shark does care for its young (hence the name), and quite often you find them in family groups. I have also heard anecdotal evidence of whale shark mothers looking after their young. Of course most sharks won’t be pining away for their siblings etc, but thought it may be worth mentioning!

  6. whysharksmatter permalink*
    February 3, 2009 8:22 am

    There are no confirmed cases of shark parental care.

    Nurse sharks are so named because of the sucking sound they make when they feed- it sounds like a nursing baby.

    In some cases, mother sharks will eat newborn young.

    In other cases, such as the tiger shark, shark embryos will eat EACH OTHER inside the womb.

    There are no shark families. That doesn’t mean sharks aren’t worth saving, though.

  7. February 8, 2009 12:26 pm

    I would say that we pretty much have the same opinion regarding sharks in captivity. (Following your e-mail regarding this blog post: )

    I believe that passionate people can harm a cause – at the same time as realize that it’s sometimes good with “extreme behavior”, a “kick in the butt”. For example: I don’t approve of Sea Shepherds methods. I have chosen an other path to save the sharks that is more accepted by society. At the same time they get lots of attention, that in the end might help my cause as well. I find it very interesting to study this synergy.

  8. February 8, 2009 3:37 pm

    Very excellent article and commentary!
    I don’t have much, if anything, substantive to add.

    I would like to second the idea that even IF aquariums were “bad” for individual sharks (which they generally aren’t) – e.g. if they decreased the lifespan by 50% or something – I still completely agree that this small “collateral damage” is far outweighed by the good that comes from having sharks and other creatures in aquariums and zoos (whether it’s in science, public interest, funding, conservation, etc).

    Unlike biomedical research, which sacrifices the lives of some animals (like mice) only for humanity’s greater well being, aquariums keep sharks captive for the good of its own species AND others.

    I say this as a strong supporter and conductor of biomed research.

  9. Allie permalink
    February 8, 2009 4:16 pm

    Getting to have close, personal encounters with sharks is what helps to open up people’s minds. They get an opportunity to see these beautiful creatures up close, and almost always become very curious about them. Shark exhibits are always the big-ticket item at aquariums.

    Curiosity is very healthy…it allows people to learn more and shifts any preconceived notions they may have had before engage in some healthy exploration of information.

    Specifically for David and I, no doubt I am sure we both developed our love of sharks from the shark pond at Seacamp. Sharks were caught in the wild and rotated every few weeks so that they did not have to spend long in captivity, and campers got the experience to watch them up close and even *GASP* swim with them and see how harmless they are! And on summers in which we were ESPECIALLY lucky, the bonnetheads gave birth and we were able to witness baby sharks up close.

    The opportunity to watch and experience sharks up close was valuable in shaping our opinions of sharks and falling in love with them. People are afraid of the unknown, what they don’t full understand. They certainly don’t care about conserving things they don’t understand. That’s why I love the quote by Baba Dioum, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, love only what we understand, understand only what we are taught.” Exhibits are VALUABLE teaching tools/learning opportunities, and without giving people the opportunity to learn, how can we expect them to become involved with conservation?

  10. whysharksmatter permalink*
    February 8, 2009 4:19 pm


    That is the opening quote for my upcoming book about sharks. You have good taste.

  11. Allie permalink
    February 8, 2009 5:10 pm

    Thanks :) I’m impressed that you know that quote! It’s one of my favorites and I use it CONSTANTLY.

  12. whysharksmatter permalink*
    February 8, 2009 5:20 pm

    It’s on the wall of the South Carolina Aquarium, by the shark tank. I volunteer there as a SCUBA diver- but I knew the quote before that.

  13. Allie permalink
    February 8, 2009 5:37 pm

    I went to that aquarium last spring and loved it! It was set up very similarly to the Florida Aquarium, where I interned.

  14. little g permalink
    February 8, 2009 6:07 pm

    Again, I agree whole heartedly with the posts above. Although not an aquarium, I was once volunteer with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (formerly Jersey Zoo but renamed to lose the stigma of zoos historically) and many critically endangered species would not be around today if it wasn’t for the work of captive breeding programmes and animal research like the Durrell Trust going on around the world.

    Such institutions can only be sustained by public funding and support through entrance fees and donations made from people who have witnessed and learned about these animals first hand for themselves. So boycotting animals in captivity because they must be pining for the wild and missing their families can only be described as a Disney mentality at best.

    On another note, I have also come across similar arguments against cage diving with sharks in that you are artificially attracting and exploiting them. I agree that badly managed shark dives can have detrimental affects (if your chumming close to popular tourist beaches for example) but I’m of the opinion and I try to explain to these people that the revenue brought in from tourists taken out on vessels also used in scientific research is the only way to fund such operations that may ultimately help the shark populations in question (and giving the sharks an economic value so they are worth more to a local community alive than dead can also help in these cynical times).

  15. Andy Nosal permalink
    February 9, 2009 12:38 pm

    The general public has only a few ways to “access” sharks. Unfortunately, most people have limited access, only via movies and television. This is where our negative opinion of sharks is born and fostered. At the other extreme, a fortunate few have the opportunity to study them or share their company in the wild via snorkeling or SCUBA diving. This is where our positive opinion of sharks is born and fostered.

    Shark in captivity, at aquariums for example, provide an intermediate access point for those unable to share sharks’ company in the wild (for financial, geographical, or other reasons). In my experience, those who have the opportunity to observe live sharks develop a positive opinion for them. They are amazed, fascinated and sometimes even inspired. Seeing a live shark in an aquarium may spark a young child’s interest to become a marine biologist and maybe even a shark biologist.

    Although an aquarium may be less desirable than the natural ocean in terms of living arrangement, the excitement generated by seeing sharks up close has immense benefits for conservation, which far outweigh the costs of maintaining them in captivity.

  16. Nokogiri permalink
    February 9, 2009 2:29 pm

    I think that public aquaria do foster interest and concern about displayed animals, and that by and large, public display can support conservation.

    However, I really think there needs to be an organized, well-developed conservation education program regarding threatened and endangered species. I have visited several of the major US public aquaria and found the signage and volunteer staff answering questions to be ill-informed regarding the endangered display animals.

    To justify maintaining endangered species, there needs to be more organized and proven education methods employed.

    A recent grad school thesis compared classroom and aquarium educational success regardig sharks, and found that aquaria were far less successful — do aquaria employ professional educators and/or sociaologists to assure their conservation messages are successfully received?

    Do aquaria perform exist interviews to assess information retained?

    I think that aquaria need to revamp their education process to better assist commuicating their conservation message.

  17. So. aka the Bullshit Shark permalink
    February 9, 2009 11:31 pm


    In many pages of this blog, including the first page, we see people (including the author of this blog?) handling sharks, out of water, and displaying them proudly, like trophies, to the crowds *struck by fear and amazement*.

    As an individual concerned by shark and wildlife preservation in general, and people education, I do question the message that these kind of displays send to these very same people :

    Would it be something like :
    “WE are the dominant species, WE do as we please, this very life lies under OUR very hand.”

    Maybe this is the sad reality after all : the lesson to be learned is that WE are in control and WE have the power of life and death over the lower creatures, and WE can choose life.

    But I can’t help being an idealist, and think that although I have this power, I simply choose to let the lower creature live its life, in its natural habitat, trying as much as possible not to interfere with it, as tough as this life might be.

    What is the message ?

    Or did I watch the National Geographic too much ?

    I had a wonderful experience, years ago in the almost pristine northern lagoon of New Caledonia, and made a close encounter with a big enough grey reef shark, roaming along the reef, “its” territory. Although fully aware of my presence, it didn’t care. It passed a few meters from me, calm, majestic. I felt calm and amazed, filled with gratitude, to be granted such a moment, to feel like my presence, although alien, was simply tolerated.

    That’s my ideal of mutual respect.
    Between species, races, or cultures.
    Not many people would let me wander in their garden so gracefully.

    I also met in other occasions some smaller sharks, small black or white tips, fighting for a fish like dogs on a bone… pretty funny.
    … And frustrating, because I wasn’t allowed to go in the water at such times, but that’s life : when lightning strikes, you don’t go out in the open handing a big metal pole high in the air. You let the storm pass and watch it from afar.
    Same with the sharks.
    That’s my message.

    I grew up in paradise, where tiger and great white sharks lived happily and in harmony, where the attacks were, and still are, usually provoked (apnea fishermen hanging their catch on their belt), where sharks were respected and rigtfully feared for what they are, top predators, but within reason. Where shark attacks didn’t lead to panic and mass murder, but to more education and prevention of the people.

    Back to other latitudes and other times : red tide in Costa-Rica, “rotten” coral reefs in Egypt, the average tourist who wants his share of sensation, who wants to touch, take his picture, no matter the consequences.

    Many bad news, everywhere I turn… And I wish I could do something about it.

  18. February 9, 2009 11:43 pm

    Wow, RE: “So. aka the Bullshit Shark”

    I think the message is pretty clear.

    “WhySharksMatter”s avatar image says to me “Hi. I study sharks to help us understand and protect them. This is a shark. Isn’t it beautiful and amazing. Cool, huh? Now I’m gonna put it back in the water…”

    I personally know nothing of his research, but even if I were to learn that that particular animal were sacrificed for biological or conservation research, I think the message remains the same. This gets back to whole idea of sacrificing a few for the benefit of the species (e.g. zoo or aquarium animals).

    Everything about this blog, including his handle, says “We study sharks. We respect them. We want to protect and conserve them. Sharks MATTER!”

  19. So. aka the Bullshit Shark permalink
    February 9, 2009 11:52 pm

    A little bitter sweet note to fuel the debate if I may.

    A year ago, 41 cow nose rays died at Calgary zoo.

    The rays were part of a “hands on” exhibit.

    The investigation concluded that the deaths were caused by a lack of of oxygen.

    Recently the exhibit has reopened.

    No doubt Calgary zoo will use this opportunity to sensitize its visitors to the fragile balance in the oceans, and explain them, maybe, that what happened in Calgary zoo happens right here right now in the oceans at much larger scales.

    Or am I watching the National Geographic too much ?

  20. whysharksmatter permalink*
    February 10, 2009 12:12 am

    Thanks, irradiatus! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    That particular animal was released after a few days, it was used to demonstrate to high school children and their parents that sharks aren’t all big scary killing machines.

  21. February 10, 2009 12:35 am

    By the way, “Bullshit Shark”, I agree with the rest of your sentiments – and I feel pretty much the exact same way as you in any of my wildlife encounters.

    I just felt I had to take issue with your questioning of “their message.”

  22. Ben Kimsey permalink
    March 13, 2009 7:09 am

    The public needs to be educated about the beauty and importance of sharks. One of the best ways to educate people is an aquarium. Aquariums allow people that live in landlocked areas, and people that have fears of being in an ocean to see marine life up close. Most aquariums also have volunteers that provide information about the marine life. Even though aquariums are good educational tools, some aquariums feed sharks unbalanced diets, and cause sharks to become unhealthy.

  23. Lilly permalink
    April 1, 2009 11:53 am

    In response to this ethical debate I would like to note that first I think it is fantastic that people are addressing the complex issues that effect the living environment of sharks living in the wild and also in captivity. Most of all I want to note that in response to the first issue discussed I feel that sharks should remain in the wild. The way that they kill and hunt helps maintain the living environment of other organisms in the sea. For example they keep the predator prey ratio level. Another issue discussed here is people only putting sharks in camptivity for profit. I don’t agree with this. I feel like the reason as to why sharks are put into captivity is to further the study of these animals.
    Sharks do not have families? This really is interesting, and I guess in many ways correct. Seeing as how sharks and other organisms don’t tend to the needs of their off spring nearly as much as humans, so I think that the definition of “family” is completely different for that of the shark species.
    I think that it is not wrong to place animals in captivity. I think that the ratio should be small and animals should not be subjected to harassment and mistreatment by officials running the research on the animals. I also think that animals should be given a substantial amount of space in for their living environment while held/studied in captivity.

  24. April 1, 2009 8:22 pm

    After listening to both sides of the debate. I have a very strong opinion that is in support of allowing sharks to be held in aquariums. I feel like the benefits greatly outweigh the costs (if any) to the shark. First off, if it weren’t for aquariums most of us wouldnt know anything about sharks and just think they are viscous man eating creatures. By allowing people to view them in the aquarium, they are able to see them in a simulated natural environment and learn that they are actually very interesting.

    I can understand why a person might think that a shark is being deprived of a true habitat but it is important to understand that sharks do not have feelings nor do they think at all like humans. I believe that aquariums are well regulated and in some instances even take better care of the sharks then a natural environment would.

    In conclusion, I am all for sharks in aquariums!!

  25. isfa'06 permalink
    April 7, 2009 2:42 pm

    As much as i would like to see sharks swimming in the ocean free it is good for people to get a better understanding of what sharks are like even if that means they are being held captive. I have been shark tagging before in the Bahamas and i think it is good that scientists will have information to compare sharks in captivity to sharks in the open ocean too. If sharks are well fed and are not producing too many babies then people really should be learning from these amazing creatures. I agree with the points that people are saying there is no reason to hold sharks in slides like the hotel in Las Vegas…there is another slide like that in Nassau, Bahamas. No one is learning anything from these sharks, they are only making profits off of these animals and i do not feel as if that is right. Lets keep learning from sharks so that more people can become less afraid.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      April 13, 2009 8:47 pm

      Why is making money bad? That money can be used for education and conservation programs- the Atlantis in Nassau donates tons to shark research.

  26. April 11, 2009 8:29 pm

    I also agree that for the most part,aquariums are not caging these animals or keeping them from their “families.” These captivities serve as a great educational tool,especially for sharks. When you say “sharks”, people automatically think about the movie Jaws,myself included. I know when I saw the sharks in the Charleston aquarium, when I didn’t immediately see the shark chomp down on the fish, I was surprised because that’s how I’ve always imagined sharks to be as vicious animals. However, by going to aquariums and seeing divers with them and seeing that they are not automatically devoured, sheds a new light on the nature of these interesting animals. Unlike other animals held in captivity, sharks and other aquatic animals are much harder to see in their natural habitat so aquariums offer that insight that scientists may have otherwise not seen. Other animals on land can be easily tracked and observed. To what WhySharksMatter wrote, I agree, when I think sharks I do not think of them being big family animals like gorillas.
    Aquariums take a lot into account when they design their captivities to make the assimilation easier for the animals. Also, granted many aquariums do center on making profit but in that sense, the more profit they make the better habitat they can make for the animals due to the influx of money.

  27. ZRT843 permalink
    April 12, 2009 5:55 pm

    Its kinda crazy to think that because of some of the animal rights activists, you would no longer be able to go to aquariums. I am not saying that I am completely anti-animal rights, but come on now. Aquariums, as said by the author of this, spark the minds of many children all over the country, giving them knowledge and allowing their minds to ponder about all of the things that occur under the sea. The animals in aquariums (I would believe) are not treated in cruel or malicious ways, and I would bet, if sharks could actually speak or have emotions, they would say that it is not that bad living in an aquarium.

  28. April 13, 2009 2:06 pm

    I would have to agree with the side of the debate that says to allow sharks to be held in aquariums. This is mainly because no one (except people who specialize in researching them) would be too knowledgeable on the history of sharks. Allowing sharks to be held in an aquarium allows the public to become thoroughly educated on them. Some say that the sharks may be deprived of “freedom” or a real natural environment, however it seems that the sharks are doing quite fine in the tanks with much room, food, etc.. So I think that if anything having the sharks in “captivity” is beneficial to the public and doesn’t bring too much harm to the actual shark. It seems that workers in the aquarium truly care about the animals and just want to educate, not just make money. Plus, as others have pointed out …it’s not like employees of aquariums make THAT much money. So i’m all for keeping sharks in aquariums!

    • Chelsea permalink
      April 13, 2009 7:49 pm

      I don’t believe in keeping sharks in tanks, in fact i don’t believe in keeping any animals in captivity unless they have some sort of handicap or body issues preventing them from being able to live on their own in the wild. Healthy animals are just not happy in captivity! I don’t think this is fair to the animals whatsoever, and sure I like going to aquariums and zoo’s and looking at the animals, but every time I’m there I can’t stand seeing these animals locked up in cages. Also you really don’t know what happens when those doors are closed and the public is sitting there staring at you while you interact with the animals. They could be abusing these animals.

      • April 13, 2009 8:16 pm


        How do you know healthy animals are not “happy” in captivity?

        That is the classic anthropomorphic thinking that is exactly the wrong argument against animals in captivity.

        What makes you think sharks feel anything that can even remotely be compared to human “happiness”? I’m not necessarily saying they don’t (though I will below). I’m merely pointing out the incorrectness of making that assumption based on warm fuzzy projections of our own psyches onto creatures with radically different brain anatomies and cognitive functions.

        “Also you really don’t know what happens when those doors are closed and the public is sitting there staring at you while you interact with the animals. They could be abusing these animals.”

        Based on that statement, one could argue that no parent should be allowed to keep their children indoors at home. They might be being abused. Most zoo workers have that job because they love animals. I know this because I have known quite a few zoo workers in my life.

        I personally don’t like to see any great apes in zoos. Why? Because they clearly have something akin to human perception and self-awareness (based on brain anatomy and behavior – not my own projections). As I’ve argued before, the line between creatures having human-like perceptions and experiences is gray and fuzzy. But it’s pretty clear for more anciently-derived species like sharks that they are far to the “animal” side of the cognitive and emotional spectrum. There is a difference between a simpler pleasure/reward feedback neural pathway and human “happiness,” which includes the animalistic pleasure feedback combined with our own awareness and processing of those feelings.

        It is clear that sharks, like most animal species, do not have a concept of “self” (unlike great apes, dolphins, and even some birds that DO have self-awareness). Our own “happiness” is largely dependent on our self-awareness. It is an integral part of what it means to be happy. Thus sharks certainly are not “happy” in any circumstance when considering what the word “happy” means to humans.

  29. SharkStudent permalink
    April 14, 2009 8:45 am

    The conservation of sharks is only benefitted by these sharks that are kept in captivity. I am not saying that every shark is benefitted from its individual captivity, but as a whole sharks are benfitting. Most people, including myself, have heard the horror stories of he killers of the sea, the shark. The only time that I haven’t heard about these killers is from the aquariums, etc. that I have visited or my crazy biology lab teacher.Most of these people who are presenting the information are passionate about their work, you can hear it in their voice. They aren’t out there only to make money for themselves, but can you blame them for making money by talking about something they love. I have never gone to an aquarium where sharks are without hearing something about a shark preservation group that should be supported.

    I do agree with the slide statement. Those sharks are used as a fear factor, only encouraging the fear that children feel towards sharks. The only reason those sharks are there is to make the ride more thrilling by raising fear, which is in no way benefitting the sharks that are held in captivity. This type of thing is only for money making and this is the type of captivity that should be questioned.

  30. thecaptain permalink
    April 14, 2009 3:27 pm

    I definitely agree with you on this! People have all of these theories in their heads about what sharks do and don’t do and blah blah blah. I think it’s great that we are given the opportunity to study these creatures up close and personal. If more people knew the facts about sharks then maybe less accidents and shark killings would happen. For example, the spearman in the Spearman vs. Tiger Shark debate may have felt less threatened and found and alternative way of dealing with the situation. As far as aquariums being money hungry institutions I think that is a load of bull. We find it okay to pay oodles of money to watch a movie on some big fancy screen all the while turning our brains to mush, but we don’t believe in giving a little money to better educate ourselves about the natural world? Something about this picture is very wrong.

  31. Coco permalink
    April 14, 2009 8:07 pm

    Keeping sharks in captivity is necessary in order to accurately teach both children and adults about them. I feel that the more people know about sharks, the more protected they will be in the future. Sharks are a vital part of our ocean life, and the more knowledge we can accumulate about these animals the better off we will be. No one knows for sure how or what an animal feels while being kept in captivity, and if it is an uncomfortable or tortuous life for the few who are being caged we can find comfort in knowing that the research and learning opportunities produced from their captivity will only behoove the species in the future.

  32. SBT permalink
    April 15, 2009 6:39 pm

    I would agree that sharks being kept in captivity for the purpose of studying them in order to better explain them to the world is crucial. Sharks are one of the most misunderstood animals in the world. The majority of the worlds population, minus you marine biologists out there, probably think of the words “frightening” and “dangerous” when someone mentions the word “shark. I know I do. After reading is blog though my views are changing.

    I also agree that sharks do not “want to go be in the wild with their families” is a foolish argument to make. Sharks are animals, and since they are not monogamous and do not care for their young, they have no responsibility to their so called families. Sharks also do not have feelings. They are animals, they are only concerned with what they need to do to survive.

    Therefore, I strongly believe that the study of sharks is very important and the safest way for scientists to do this is to keep some in captivity.

  33. dmr5 permalink
    April 16, 2009 6:19 pm

    No, I do not think it is bad to place SOME animals in captivity for educational purposes. Several animals in the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston are there because they were injured. Now they have a home with provided food and special care depending on what their injury was.
    Animals in captivity, when treated correctly, help the human population to learn more about them and how to respect them in their natural habitat. I think it is great to have sharks, especially, kept in captivity so that people can be exposed more and more.
    This could decrease the number of deaths caused by wild animals in that people will be more educated and aware of how certain animals act and/or respond to other species.

  34. Emma permalink
    April 18, 2009 8:42 pm

    I do not think it is wrong to keep sharks in captivity for educational purposes as firsthand observations of the animals can provide a unique understanding of sharks’ habits that one would not be able to obtain from books or lectures alone. By allowing observers of all ages to see sharks in their natural environments, albeit a smaller/”simulated” version, people are able to witness the natural behavior and temperaments of sharks in a live way, and this alone is an irreplaceable experience. Furthermore, by allowing sharks to be kept in a controlled environment the sharks are protected from potential prey to which the sharks would otherwise be susceptible should they live in the ocean. Controlled environments also protect against any harmful agents found in non-captive environments, such as dangerous chemicals or boats that otherwise could harm or kill sharks that do not live in such a closely regulated and monitored environment.

  35. Marsh4green permalink
    April 19, 2009 3:09 pm

    Yes, I agree with you the pros outweigh the cons. Sharks are usually loners when not mating anyway, when have you ever seen a mommy shark and her little baby sharkies swimming next to her. I’m not very educated on sharks so I do buy that they are probably not as vicious as we may typically think but geez man have you ever seen JAWS (haah jk). When sharks are hungry and smell human blood though I don’t want to be anywhere in sight. If sharks were truly saddened by being in captivity (and eating all the fish they want!) then yes I would vote for freeing them but that isn’t the case. dmr5 makes a good point, many of these aquatic animals have been injured in the wild and also they are protected from environmental hazards and contamination in the aquarium

  36. goose permalink
    April 19, 2009 3:21 pm

    Aquariums are great ways to learn about marine life, and it’s my understanding that money raised from ticket prices typically go towards conservation and upkeep of the aquarium itself.

  37. beth permalink
    April 20, 2009 3:51 pm

    As long as the sharks are well taken care of and have the necessary space they need, I agree that it is essential for the education of others that sharks be placed in captivity. In order for people not to be scared and have a negative mindset on sharks, they need to be educated and learn that they aren’t actually “dangerous killing machines.”

  38. Zach permalink
    April 20, 2009 5:25 pm

    If the sharks are being treated well, receiving care, and being fed in an appropriate size enclosure then I see absolutely nothing wrong with it. How could this be a detriment to the shark? People try to, as you said, anthropomorphize animals into something they aren’t. Sharks just don’t long for the open sea any more than you long to walk around in the wilderness living in different places your whole life. On top of that, in an aquarium they have a literal lifetime supply of food that is provided for them.

  39. Annie DuPre permalink
    April 20, 2009 6:40 pm

    Interesting topic.

    1)I agree with this first point entirely. It’s true, inhumane treatment of sharks shouldn’t be tolerated, but when an aquarium is adequately caring for the beautiful sharks, then they are being used for education and this definitely holds a lot of benefit. Personally, I had to go shark-cage diving in South Africa to realize how gentle and beautiful they are, but Aquariums are generally an awesome way to learn about the wonders of the sea and realize that all sharks don’t practice to be in the movie “Jaws.”

    2) This is a slightly more difficult point to address-since we do not literally know what is going on (if anything is) in the minds of sharks in captivity. However, there are appropriate regulations for habitats provided by aquariums to their sharks. I doubt the shark is dreaming about his mom when he’s swimming around in the 385,000 gallon tank in the South Carolina Aquarium, for example.

    3) What!? Sharks don’t have parents and cousins and have family reunions once a year? This person did reveal a bit of ignorance on that one. Shows passion for the subject, but a lack of understanding of the situation at hand.

    4) If this person ever took the time to work at an Aquarium (although they probable wouldn’t get hired) or just volunteer, or even just walk through and talk to the employees…they would see that, as you say, people who work their care about the environment and all its living creatures. Especially sea creatures, likely, because they work at the Aquarium! But really, this is a guy who seems to be good at pointing fingers and making assumptions. I wonder if he takes that logic with him everywhere. I’m boycotting Habitat for Humanity…they don’t want to help people, they just want to make money! Like you said, most aquariums are not-for-profit. Where did this guy do his research?

    In close, I support your statement that, under proper ethical and humane considerations, the enclosure of sharks and other sea animals for the purpose of education is not a bad thing!

  40. DSstudent permalink
    April 20, 2009 6:40 pm

    I agree that although keeping sharks in captivity sounds cruel, it is a great way to learn about them. Allie made a good point that we don’t care about conserving things we do not know about. I also really liked the quote by Baba Dioum!

  41. Julia Bonnell permalink
    April 20, 2009 7:18 pm

    I believe that the benefits of having sharks in captivity without a doubt outweigh the negatives of having sharks in captivity. Education of the public, especially the youth, is extremely important in todays society. Because of the media, people are taught at a young age to fear sharks because they are “blood thirsty animals that prey on humans.” This statement is completely untrue and shows how little people really understand the nature of these animals. Having sharks in captivity allows professionals to study their behaviors, and also helps the public get a better understanding of how these animals operate. For the most part, sharks are well taken care of in captivity with enough space and food to survive. I believe that it is vital to have sharks in captivity so that we can better understand these creatures, and so that the public can become more familiarized with these animals.

  42. Sharky permalink
    April 20, 2009 7:25 pm

    I do not view animals being “held captive” in aquariums to being all that different than people having animals as house pets. How is having a pet dog that you love and play with, but keep “captive” in your house any different from having animals that are loved and cared for and are kept in aquariums? Generally, people that work in aquariums care a lot about animals, and the animals that are kept in the aquariums are looked after and cared for.
    I also agree with the point David made that aquariums spark an interest in animals for people, and because of this I think that overall aquariums help animals and conservation efforts for them more than they hurt them.
    And, after reading the debate on shark fin soup, it sounds like the sharks might actually be a lot safer in aquariums than they might be out in the wild!

  43. April 20, 2009 9:02 pm

    I completely agree with whysharksmatter. Sharks need to be better understood and the only way for that to occur is by keeping them in captivity where they can be observed. People should be better educated about sharks and a great and fun way to do so is by going to the aquarium. Also, if I was a shark in captivity I think I would be pretty content. Think about it, they are feed twice a day and it is probably pretty decent food (for a shark). The hunt is taken away from them, which I suppose could be bad, but not really because they no longer are in danger or “dangerous”. I am pro-aquariums because they respect the animals and they are awesome.

  44. Jeff permalink
    April 20, 2009 9:29 pm

    First off passionate and uneducated people who argue about a topic are extremely detrimental usually to what they are passionate about. In order to make assumptions and argue a topic you need to have some basic knowledge of the topic or else you’re argument is useless and makes people think less of you. For a person to say that sharks “want to be in the wild and with their families” when in fact, from what I’ve read on this blog they don’t have any conception of family and wouldn’t know the difference between captivity and the wild is ridiculous.

    Secondly, keeping sharks and other animals in captivity is a great educational tool. The aquarium and zoo are places that peak the interest of many people and can be the sparkplug that ignites the urge for them to learn more about the animals they see. Also when people can see how beautiful and amazing some of these creatures are up close it often makes them care about them more since they are experiencing the animals rather then reading or hearing about it. Finally, I honestly don’t understand how the animals would suffer from being in captivity as long as they are being taken care of properly. If there is proof that its detrimental for an animal to be in captivity I would like to see it.

  45. kdid permalink
    April 20, 2009 9:53 pm

    I think that the sharks should be kept in captivity. I’m not interested in any kind of animals, therefore the only way I learn about them is from the aquariums and things like them. I was also one of those children who thought sharks were big and scary and only hurt people. From learning about them through their captivity and such, I have been able to understand a different side of them. I don’t think that all animals should be held in captivity, but I do think that it is always for good intentions. If they did “want” things, I think that some would like to stay safe and out of danger, but I also think that some would want to be out in the ocean and on their own living in freedom. Unfortunately, we will never know which one they each prefer so I think that captivity is the best option.

  46. e.jones permalink
    April 20, 2009 10:13 pm

    The lifespan of any animal in captivity is shorter than in its ideal environment. Growth rates and nutrition may not be ideal, however the education of the public is most important. Proving to less informed people that not all sharks are Jaws is very influential. Public awareness is very important. As long as the sharks are being fed, have room to swim, and are given a livable tank, they will inform hundreds of people. Large sharks, such as whale sharks should be limited in captivity.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      April 20, 2009 10:22 pm

      “The lifespan of any animal in captivity is shorter than in its ideal environment”

      That is completely false. The lifespan of most animals is far LONGER in captivity, because of the medical care, unlimited food, and lack of predators. There are a few animals we don’t know how to take care of in captivity yet, but most do very well.

  47. Ceci permalink
    April 21, 2009 12:04 am

    I often go back and forth on the animals in captivity debate, but usually I see the positives as outweighing the negatives. I believe that aquariums (or zoos for that matter) are not run solely for profit. If you think about it, a significant portion of charged admission has to go towards, animal care and food, staff, and maintenance. I agree that it is easier to educate people and have them feel more compassion when they see a living creature. Seeing an animal swim around is very different from seeing a picture in a book or pictures on the internet. My brother is an aspiring marine biologist and does not object to aquariums because he sees their educational value and does not see them as a “fish prison.” And believe me, that boy loves animals and living creatures of all types. He once broke down into tears over the ill fate of worms on a family fishing trip.

    Aquariums are important for their role in educating people. It inspires more passionate activists who are more likely to be educated about what they are fighting for.

    We should also keep in mind that many animals in captivity have only lived lives of captivity, thus not only do they know of no other life, they also are unlikely to survive in the wild. If those sorts of animals are treated properly, how is it any different from having a pet hamster?

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      April 21, 2009 12:13 am

      The people objecting to keeping animals in zoos are often the same people who claim that keeping a pet hamster (or any other pet) is animal slavery. It isn’t different, but aquarium protesters usually object to both.

  48. jsgeology permalink
    April 21, 2009 12:17 pm

    I agree completely with what this blog has to say. The aquarium is a great tool in getting children interested in the protection and conservation of species. it gives them first hand experience of sharks and lets them know that sharks are not like jaws. The sharks are also not miserable swimming around in the tank they are doing what they would be doing in nature anyways and they eat well. Also the aquarium has employed many of my friends which helped them pay their way through school.

  49. Carolinagirl permalink
    April 21, 2009 1:50 pm

    I agree that sharks should be held in aquariums, it is a great educatioin tool, for children of all ages. Sharks should be kept in aquariums unless there is evidence that proves they have families and other ecological relationships that benefit the environment better by having them not in captivity. Unless the organization is using the sharks for profits I see nothing wrong with keeping them in captivity.

  50. Meredith Steele permalink
    April 21, 2009 2:39 pm

    I also agree that sharks in captivity is overall a good, education thing. In order for people to learn about and understand sharks some must be in aquariums etc. I also think that people too often expect animals to have human characteristics such as wants and desires. Contrary to this common misconception, sharks as well as other animals are simply living mostly by instinct not by their own personal desires. It is obviously hard to appreciate and “like” sharks when they do not have the best rep but you can’t blame them for being sharks. . .

  51. cupcake permalink
    April 21, 2009 4:15 pm

    It is absolutely beneficial and necessary to place some animals in captivity for educational purposes. Aquariums are perfect for sparking interest in people to become marine biologists or enter other areas of the field of aquatic life. As David says, sharks are animals and cannot “want” anything. They need the necessities that all living organisms need – an adequate habitat, food, etc. As long as aquariums are providing them with conditions that suit their basic needs and no animal abuse or other type of misconduct is prevelent, aquariums are absolutely a positive addition to the world. It is commendable to wish for “freedom for all” whether human or animal, but in this case the portion of sharks and other marine life that are living in captivity are benefitting the greater good. If we don’t study them, we cannot do anything for them in the future when they need our help (if they become endangered, etc). In order to study them, we need people who have the interest. As David mentioned, it is much easier to spark interest in people when they can be up close with the animal and see it in person. Aquariums allow for this and therefore help in the field of marine studies.

  52. Mdot permalink
    April 21, 2009 4:54 pm

    Sharks along with every other animal should not be held captive in an aquarium or zoo. How about rather than going to a zoo or aquarium, people should put down their ipods, computers, or cell phone-whatever technology it is- and go outside for a walk, go to a lake/pound, or even the ocean. Seeing these animals in captivity is not seeing the animal or witnessing its behavior, we are just seeing a caged organism react to its peculiar and unfamiliar surroundings. If we can complain about over fishing, or hunting, or any other matter of how humans have destroyed planet Earth and its inhabitants, maybe its about time we stop being so lazy and go experience nature the real way in nature! Rather overpay to see an artificial nature in both zoos and aquariums.

  53. Julie permalink
    April 21, 2009 9:39 pm

    I think as long as the sharks are well taken care off and are provided with good living conditions and necessities, there should be no problem keeping sharks for educational purposes. I agree with the author that this is the best way for people to learn about sharks or other animals. If they can be educated and see the sharks up close, they might not think they are so scary. They also might then become opposed to shark hunting if they understand the animal. I think that aquariums and zoos are an excellent place to do this and I think they have many positive benefits. People can become educated about the animals and become proactive in protecting and caring for them.

  54. Neldam0303 permalink
    April 21, 2009 9:45 pm

    I believe that captivating sharks to an extent is a very good way of education people about their lifestyle. As long as the sharks are in an environment that mimics their own and are treated fairly, I hardly mind it at all. Having them in an aquarium is indeed a beneficial way to bestow knowledge to those first hand rather than just reading about it or seeing it in a book. I do believe (since being in Animal rights class) that animals such as sharks are sentient beings, so they may “want”, but i don’t know what they want and can’t speak for them because frankly i don’t know what they are thinking, like some people do for dolphins. Overall everything you said is true.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      April 22, 2009 11:16 pm

      Sharks are not sentient by any definition of the word.

      No one knows what dolphins are “thinking” either.

      I assume by “captivating”, you mean “placing in captivity”, and not “really interesting”?

  55. student permalink
    April 22, 2009 5:21 pm

    I agree with captivity of animals for educational purposes. I think it is important for us to understand things such as shark behavior. Understanding the behavior of sharks and their interactions with other fish could possibly stop people from fearing sharks, and maybe allow them to understand how to behave around sharks.

    I do agree with another blogger though on a statement they made; I do not think it is acceptable for animals to be help captive for entertainment purposes, such as swimming with dolphins. Although these animals might be taken good care of, they are not in their natural habit like they should be. If I was kidnapped and brought to a super nice resort, no matter what I would want to be back in my own home. I think it is cruel to hold animals hostage strictly to please humans.

  56. Kyle permalink
    April 22, 2009 7:11 pm

    Although sharks are scary dangerous animals I would have to say that I think shark captivity is very sad. I agree with David and his ideas but I feel that shark captivity is holding these animals back from their potential at sea. It’s just humans once again messing with the eco system.

  57. adp permalink
    April 22, 2009 9:21 pm

    I believe that its okay to have sharks in captivity for education purposes. It’s not like every living shark out in the ocean is going to come to an aquarium to live the rest of it’s life. There are plenty of sharks in the ocean to be able to live long and prosper. Passionate people help, but if they are uneducated it makes it a little harder for the cause. Because if they dont know what they’re talking about then how is anyone else supposed to know?

  58. Kirsten permalink
    April 22, 2009 11:56 pm

    I would have to agree with the thought that the general public having the ability to observe sharks in captivity is important to their understanding of them. I was, however, wondering; what affect does captivity have on a shark’s behavior? How does the behavior of a shark in captivity differ from that of a shark in its natural habitat? I ask because I’m curious to know if the casual observer at an aquarium leaves with an accurate representation of the species.

    And as for the sharks wanting ‘to be with their families’? I am by no means an authority on shark behavior, obviously, but even I can see that this is an invalid argument….

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      April 23, 2009 12:16 am

      Most of what sharks do all day, either in the wild or in an aquarium, is swim around. That much isn’t distorted by captivity.

  59. JannaLJ permalink
    April 23, 2009 12:18 am

    Personally, I am one of those uneducated people about sharks. If it wasn’t for the aquariums or internet, I wouldn’t know what I know today about them. Children have short attention spans and do better when than can be hands on or see things face to face. Just by showing a child a picture in a book or reading to them, does not help them grasp a full understanding aout the subject like sharks. Sharks are incredible creatures, but they can be very intimidating if they are not understood. It is important for us to give children and people a better understanding of these creatures, and there is no better way than by having them in aquariums. I agree with David, and I totally think that it is okay to hold animals captive for educational purposes.
    I must say to all of those that are against holding animals captive that it is a sad thought and putting ourselves in the animals situation may make us against the idea, but humans and animals have different biological set-ups. Humans have larger brains, and the ability to want things. Animals do in a sense have the ability to want things, but their brains are not as developed as ours. Sharks do not travel in families unlike it is portrayed on Finding Nemo, so there is no way for them to want to be with their family. Also, I agree with Andrew that it is very hard to educate people about sharks.

  60. June 9, 2009 8:55 pm

    I really like these posts.
    I totally hate the “survival of cutest” attitude that many so-called environmentalists have (and then teach to the next generation).

    When I used to work with marsupials – it annoyed me somewhat that koalas get a majority of public attention (and funding) – and although they do face some problems, they are by no means the worst off marsupial – there are many species of rat-like hoppy sex maniacs in dire straits, and I doubt many schoolkids/adults even know they even exist.

  61. biostudent permalink
    November 11, 2009 1:30 pm

    I completely agree with the idea that aquariums are necessary to educate people about the ocean and what’s out there. Although I am only a basic biology student, I am an education major. Looking at this idea from an educational stand point, hands-on and visual learning is some of the best ways to reach students. It keeps them involved and makes them interested. By actually seeing and even touching other small organisms at these aquariums, children learn the idea of respecting their environment. They are able to make connections that the various habitats are these organisms’ homes. They recognize that it is important to take care of our environment. What better way of teaching our students that is it important to take care of our environment than showing them what actually lives there?
    Aquariums are not harming these organisms–if anything its showing us that we need to do a better job of taking care of our environment.

    • Accidently on a Porpoise permalink
      November 13, 2009 3:34 pm

      Good point. Keeping animals in captivity is a good way to educate others about their importance and helps inspire people to be concerned about their respective wild populations. However, can the same be said for other subjects taught in schools? Should anthropology students watch humans in captivity? After all, it would be educational. To justify animals being held in captivity, one just needs to decide whether or not there are different standards for the ethical treatment of animals and the ethical treatment of humans.

      Do the ends justify the means?

  62. Abby Pickus permalink
    November 17, 2009 12:38 pm

    I agree with David that having animals in aquariums isn’t a form of “enslaving” wildlife. In fact I believe that having animals in captivity in locations of learning, in this case sharks, is a good learning utility for the community. Many people are fascinated with sharks, if its not a fear of sharks or just a curiosity about them. This is proven readily in the media, especially with the many different programs designated to sharks, such as “Shark Week” on the discovery channel. Having a physical species for people to observe is very beneficial to correcting the misconceptions of sharks being man-eating monsters as well as fulfilling the publics curiosity with sharks. Having sharks in captivity also help scientist learn more about the animal which both helps the animal and society. It also provides the community with an easy access to expert opinions to answer their questions about the world, in this case sharks.

  63. KevinBio102 permalink
    November 18, 2009 2:07 pm

    In this case, I do not see it as “captivity” but more as keeping the sharks in a more confined space. It is actually better to have some sharks in places such as aquariums because not only does it protect the sharks because they are being well taken care of and fed, but also because it helps people learn about them. Knowledge is a powerful thing, and by having, an area where people can see and learn about them will only encourage people to be less afraid of sharks and more sympathetic if there is ever a problem with extinction of a shark species. I personally would not donate money or time to protect something that I am afraid of or that I think wants to eat me. I just learned this year that sharks do not typically eat a lot, nor do they typically feed on people because there are much easier food sources they could eat. Just by knowing that I am less afraid of sharks then I was before.

  64. Molly permalink
    November 18, 2009 5:04 pm

    I agree, keeping sharks in an aquarium is not a bad thing. With the sharks being so accessibly and being able to up close and personal to them is so educational and really interesting. I doubt the shark is worrying about what is going on in the ocean that he used to live in, he probably does not even remember. He is a cold blooded animal who just needs water to live in and food to survive. Having sharks in captivity will allow us to learn more about them because they are very mysterious animals, and they definitely have a bad reputation.
    And the person who started that petition probably was wasting their time making their petition, when they could have stopped neglecting their in home pet who actually NEEDS to get out of the 1500 square foot house.

  65. Carmen permalink
    November 21, 2009 8:13 pm

    First, I love animals and I love going to zoos and aquariums. I also love people, my passion and education being majoring in Psychology. I can understand how easy it is to “feel with” someone when they are upset, or to assume the same with animals. However, passion is definitely no exuse or replacement for education. Passion can help a cause as well as hurt.
    Not being educated on a topic brings extreme disadvantages. One can only make assumptions or even biased data based on what they’ve experienced or only heard others experiences who are close to them.
    Making assumptions can be very dangerous. (when you assume, you make and ass out of u and me) For example, the many assuptions that create all the stereotypes, like sharks being human hungry and also assumptions for homeless people choosing their life to live on the streets and alcoholics, asking for money. The real stats show that 23-40% of homeless adults are veterans. Causes of people in the general population and among veterans are: poverty, lack of affordable housing, pooraccess to support networks, and personal characteristics— The correlation among homeless verterans is mental ilness. These seems logical-after coming home from war, many suffer from PTSD and especially speaking of problems was not exactly socially acceptable then. (

    Any who..sorry got a little into that..but this just cannot be ignored. People can be passionate, thats great, but it does not hold up when trying prove anything. Thats why many people are passionate about their work to help, sometimes people are passionate because of their education, because of someones inability to reach their own, following their education or passion may develop from what you were simply told was “right and wrong” morally. Its great we all get to decide what we are passionate about and no doubt, its so much easier to believe someone when you have stats or an education to back it up.
    Since I am no expert on sharks, I tend to believe those educated rather than those who simple just “have a feeling”. Even though I definitely take feelings into account, this trend to believe people based on their education is not new. Thats why usually you trust your doctors opinion-because of his professional commitments and achievements.
    Therefore, I agree that the benefit of educating the public on sharks outweighs the cost. I know I would have never ever been able to afford to just hop on a plain to see every animal I wanted in their natural habitat. It is an amazing benefit and experience to be given an opportunity to learn and see these beautiful creatures in a zoo or aquarium, being cared for and given a safe home.

  66. Luis permalink
    November 22, 2009 12:00 am

    I saw this clip from a shark movie that makes me think that the educated aren’t sure what everybody is preaching about sharks. I recognize at least one guy in this video (well at least his shirt logo) that’s pretty histerical.

  67. Emma permalink
    November 23, 2009 12:12 pm

    Having sharks in an aquarium is good. Aquariums provide jobs and education to many people. The more people know about sharks the less likely they are to assume they’re “killing machines”. I don’t think that aquariums are “enslaving” to sharks. I honestly don’t think the sharks know what they are missing. This petetion was a waste of time since everyone seems to agree that sharks should stay in aquariums so people can learn about them.

  68. Emma permalink
    November 23, 2009 12:29 pm

    sorry, i spelled petition wrong

  69. Annie permalink
    November 25, 2009 2:46 pm

    I do not think that it is wrong to place animals in captivity for educational purposes. I love going to the aquarium. If not for the aquarium and the zoo I, and I think a lot of people, would have never seen certain animals in person. When am I going to get to go to Africa and see the giraffes and zebras? When am I going on a deep sea adventure and see whale-sharks and regular sharks? Never. Going to the aquarium has opened my eyes to species I didn’t know existed. I don’t think that the animals mind being in there. Like David said, they are animals, they don’t want anything. They don’t know any better, they don’t have as complex thinking as we do. I once heard that goldfish have a memory span of 2 seconds, thats why they constantly swim in circles. I believe the same for most fish(although they must have longer memory span). I think it is very beneficial for us to have aquarium’s and such so we can learn more about these creatures.

  70. Mitali Barot permalink
    November 26, 2009 3:04 pm

    I’ve been to many countries such as Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia and have been to many zoos and Aquairums and even to some dolphins and whale shows. They actually take very good care of their animals though making good money out of those entertaining shows. Like every other businesses if Aquariums are making profits is no harm. Infact they employ people and educate people about wild and aquatic life which is a very good cause. Keeping Sharks and other animals in an aquarium for a good reason and by taking good care of them is a very good deed and I don’t think there is anything wrong and sympathizing for shark captivity if they are taken care and helpful in educating our new generation about them.

  71. Steve permalink
    November 28, 2009 12:56 pm

    Sorry for coming into this debate late term, but I take issue with several generalizations made by whysharksmatter.

    1. Educating people about sharks is HARD

    Educating people about anything can be difficult; that doesn’t necessarily justify all means to that end.

    2. It is IMMEASURABLY easier to teach people about sharks when I can point to a live example and say “look, he isn’t so big and bad”. It is also easier to get someone interested in learning about sharks after they’ve seen a live one.

    Again, it may be easier to teach about sharks by providing live species, but there are other methods that can be effectively applied.

    3. any negative results from placing sharks in captivity are more than outweighed by the enormous benefit to education that captive sharks provide.

    Are you kidding? The point is being made that no matter what negative results occur, it is to be overlooked? You don’t even describe the possible negative results that could be considered.

    4. Sharks do not “want” anything, they are animals.
    Therefore, (all) animals do not want anything.

    Need I even elaborate on this statement? You can’t make such broad generalizations and expect them to go unchallenged? I am a human and therefore an animal and I want you to please stop making broad generalizations about animals.

    5. I wish that they and others would actual bother to learn about an issue before speaking publicly and loudly about it. Enthusiasm is no substitute for knowledge.

    A most condescending approach to a debate on ethics. Sounds like the author of this site purporting to be the ultimate authority on the subject of sharks.
    I know of several shark experts that might take issue with your positions without demeaning your opinions as being inadequately prepared.

    6. People who work at aquaria love nature and love teaching people about the environment.

    That’s great, but it doesn’t make their position on this issue any more prominent.

    7. If they wanted profit, there are plenty of jobs that pay much more. Most aquaria are registered not-for-profit organizations that rely on donations to operate.

    Just because an aquarium is registered as a non-profit, doesn’t mean that it is dependent on donations to pay expenses. There are many non-profit organizations that pay their executives extravagantly.

    8. When a conservation-based business profits, they can donate more money to their cause.

    That doesn’t mean that every method that they use to create their profits is justified. This is where it becomes an ethical debate. A conservation- based business should be held to what standards? It is possible for the line between conservation and exploitation to be blurred.

    I am not anti-aquaria by any means, but I do think there is a line that should not be crossed. Where that line should be is the ultimate question that brings conflicting ethical standards into play.

    When you talk about sharks in captivity, is it not possible that the same standards might not apply to all shark species? After all, they are quite varied and therefore may require different standards before one can make a fair assessment of the ethical virtues of their confinement.

    • November 30, 2009 12:02 pm

      Hi, Steve, and welcome to Southern Fried Science! We always enjoy meeting passionate people, and you certainly seem to qualify. I hope you’ll stick around and continue to comment on this and other posts.

      Now, to respond to some of your points.

      “You don’t even describe the possible negative results that could be considered. ”

      There really aren’t that many. Sharks in captivity live longer, healthier lives than those in the wild. They get a regular diet, and they have access to medical care. Sharks don’t really have emotions, so physical health is really the only thing we can measure.

      “Sharks do not “want” anything, they are animals.
      Therefore, (all) animals do not want anything. ”

      That’s kind of a silly extrapolation. Yes, humans are animals, as we all learned in first grade science, but unlike (most) other animals, humans are capable of emotions. I feel sad when I don’t talk to family or friends for a while. Sharks do not have family or friends. Sharks are not emotionally disturbed as a result of being isolated from their parents.

      “Enthusiasm is no substitute for knowledge.
      A most condescending approach to a debate on ethics. Sounds like the author of this site purporting to be the ultimate authority on the subject of sharks.
      I know of several shark experts that might take issue with your positions without demeaning your opinions as being inadequately prepared.”

      The purpose of these ethical debates is to discuss both sides of these important issues. Simply by having them, I am acknowledging that there is more than one acceptable answer to the question here. However, an acceptable answer has to be based on actual facts. Saying that you object to keeping sharks in captivity because the sharks will miss being with their families is, to say the least, “inadequately prepared”.

      “It is possible for the line between conservation and exploitation to be blurred. ”

      I totally agree, though that is not the case in this situation.

  72. Steve permalink
    November 30, 2009 3:55 pm

    Thanks for the warm welcome. Your website has a unique format for encouraging discussion and debate.

    I have to say that I am generally not opposed to sharks being kept in captivity by qualified aquaria. There are obvious advantages to having real sharks available to help educate those that will never have the opportunity to interact with them in their natural surroundings. However, there has to be established criteria including ethical standards that apply. There is always the possibility that some would abuse the privileges and responsibilities that are intrinsically involved.

    My main concern relates to the proliferation of the concept involving whale shark confinement. This is one species that because it is certainly a spectacular draw, has perhaps the greatest potential to be inappropriately exploited.
    It is my opinion that no large, pelagic fish or marine mammal can be displayed in an aquarium setting without disregarding the ethical standards that true conservation would require. I guess what I am saying is that there must be limits and compromises and this is where I believe the line should be drawn. Regardless of you view as to the inferior status of lower animals, many conservationists believe that they are deserving of minimal standards that would include replicating their natural habitats.

    Now, I would like to respond to your specific comments.

    Sharks in captivity live longer, healthier lives than those in the wild.

    This does not apply to whale sharks. If you would like, I can provide several references. I do not have information about other shark species, but generally they are quite hardy.

    Sharks do not have family or friends. Sharks are not emotionally disturbed as a result of being isolated from their parents.

    Whale sharks are often found in large congregations. We know so little about the functions of these mass meetings that to assume anything about their social interactions is, at best, premature. A good example to keep in mind is the new information being accumulated about similar social behaviors observed in elephant herds that seem to indicate unexpected emotional involvement. I know that I am comparing a fish to a mammal, but I have observed what appears to be social behavior in whale sharks. At the least, further study is needed.

    It is possible for the line between conservation and exploitation to be blurred. ”
    I totally agree, though that is not the case in this situation.

    I would disagree with your assessment. It appears that whale sharks are in fact being exploited in the name of conservation. Real science would focus on studies of this species in their natural habitat. Here is what a guy named Cousteau had to say about it: (I think it would be safe to say that whale shark could be substituted for dolphin in this context.)

    No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.

  73. Lauren C. permalink
    November 30, 2009 4:25 pm

    I believe that sharks and other animals being held in captivity is not a bad thing at all. I actually believe the captivitiy of animals can produce positive outcomes. Like David mentioned, by holding any animal in captivity you can educate students and even adults about the presented animal. Furthermore, it helps change the distorted images that some people have of sharks and other animals. I also believe that some animals are in more danger when they are in the wild rather than when they are held in captivity. Therefore, I do not feel that the captivity of sharks and other animals is a bad thing.

  74. Mitali Barot permalink
    November 30, 2009 9:09 pm

    Thank you aquariums.Most people would never get a look at a shark in person.What a great creature it is as old as mankind or older.It kills
    to survive.How great for children to learn and actually see about the wonders of the ocean.yes it’s true people get crazy when they hear about sharks attacking for no apparent reason.people need to be educated about these wonderfully old along the atlantic coast as i do i understand a little more than i did before.

  75. Ejsoboda17 permalink
    December 1, 2009 11:48 am

    I agree that it is completely necessary to inform and educate the public about certain animals and species, and aquariums are most certainly the best way to do that. However even from personal experience I have seen what I believe were small or possibly unsuitable conditions for certain animals, from MY perspective. I believe that instead of trying to get rid of these aquariums we should consider tougher rules and regulations regarding aquariums and the upkeep and construction of habitats for certain animals.

  76. Rach permalink
    December 1, 2009 6:38 pm

    Comment removed as per rule #5

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  • Authors

    The Southern Fried Scientist

    Andrew is a graduate student in North Carolina studying deep sea biology. When not in the lab, he spends his time out on the water, usually swearing at his boat while simultaneously sacrificing some important tool to Poseidon in a desperate attempt to make the motor start. That is, assuming he can get his truck running long enough to actually put the boat in the water. He enjoys long walks on the beach, by necessity. Follow him on Twitter @SFriedScientist.


    David is a graduate student in South Carolina studying shark conservation. He is the author of the upcoming book “Why Sharks Matter: Using New Environmentalism to Show The Economic And Ecological Importance of Sharks, The Threats They Face, and How You Can Help”. His time is divided between educating the public about sharks, spending days at a time at sea playing with sharks, and eating horribly unhealthy foods. Follow him on Twitter @WhySharksMatter.

    bluegrass blue crab

    Amy is a graduate student in North Carolina studying local ecological knowledge within the blue crab fishery. She spends half her life studying the most charismatic of organisms - humans - and the estuaries on which they depend. While not contemplating grand social theories, she enjoys a good jam session and watching sunsets over the estuary. Follow her on Twitter @bgrassbluecrab.

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