Ethical debate: Sharks in captivity
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?