The Oceanográfico forms part of the spectacular City of Arts & Sciences complex in Valencia. As the largest aquarium in Europe, it brings those of us who are not marine biologists closer to the underwater world. It’s a place of education and conservation. It teaches hope and it inspires. It expands horizons and it aims to create a better world for the future.
And yet…it makes me uneasy.
I can examine the beauty of a seahorse…or a jellyfish, where the volume ratios seem appropriate.
But then there are sharks.
And suddenly the proportions don’t seem right.
What is my problem with these confined spaces? Are they smaller than the world’s oceans? Of course, but the story doesn’t end there. I’m not a Greenpeace crusader and I don’t work in an animal sanctuary. I’m not even vegetarian.
So why do these exhibits bother me?
I try to rationalize things. Qualified vets tend to these animals. No-one crams them into a factory the way they do for eggs and milk; no matador will slaughter them for entertainment.
These animals are even free from obligations during the day – well fed, kept warm, kept safe. I can hardly say the same for millions of people scattered across the globe in zones of famine and war and I don’t even need to go that far.
Across Europe and the USA, hundreds of thousands of people will get up and go to jobs they hate, sit in spaces much smaller than those I am questioning here and go home to get up and do it all over again. They will pay others to bring up their young, because they see no other way of finding food and shelter.
In many places in the world, people feel compelled to sell their children.
So, until I’m crusading against each and every one of those things – do I have any right to feel uncomfortable about conditions in an aquarium?
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com