Does Size Matter? Inside Europe’s Largest Aquarium…

The Oceanográfico

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.

Jellyfish

But then there are sharks.

Sharks

Walruses.

Walruses

And whales.

Whales

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.

Inside Valencia’s Aquarium

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?

Disclosure: To avoid any confusion, this visit was nothing to do with the recent BlogTripF1 to Valencia.

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10 Responses to Does Size Matter? Inside Europe’s Largest Aquarium…

  1. Shannon OD July 13, 2010 at 5:17 am #

    Aquariums are a really tough call on the ethics standpoint – they are such a fantastic educational opportunity for both children and adults…which cannot be overstated. But then on the other hand I much prefer rescue shelters because the fish and animals are then often released back into the wild.

    At the end of the day though, I think that every effort is made to give the animals a lot of space and zoos and aquariums often have programs that go on behind the scenes to save, preserve and breed endangered animals so I feel they really could be worth it in the long run :-)

  2. Ralph July 13, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Aquariums are the rage now, since the natural habitats of these creatures are what you can call not a habitat by a mile. This is one form of preservation and i am all up for it! :)

    • Abi July 14, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

      Hm…I’m still not sure. I definitely didn’t enjoy watching people bang against the glass constantly to try to get a reaction from the walruses, but perhaps that’s a separate issue.

  3. Mikeachim July 14, 2010 at 11:37 pm #

    Aye. A tough call.

    I think that unfortunately, very unfortunately, we’re in a transition stage where it’s possible for us to be ethically conflicted. Give it fifty or a hundred years, in many cases it’ll be “they’re here behind glass, or they’re extinct in the wild, period”. And then it’ll tragically be a lot simpler.

    My flesh has always crawled at zoos. I’ve never been to an large-scale aquarium, but I reckon I’d have the same emotional reaction to it all.

    For me, there’s always the feeling that animals are meant to struggle to survive. I don’t mean in the suffering sense – I mean in the ‘needing a wide variety of daily challenges’ sense. When animals are looked after in zoos and aquariums, when their food comes to them and where their environment is static….

    Well, just look at us.

  4. Brian Searl July 25, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    For the most part I agree with you, there is something sad about seeing the animals in “captivity”. Most of the time I try to visit the animal rescue facilities that double as aquariums instead. Usually those places offer the same types of experiences but only keep their animals for a short time until they have been rehabilitated and are ready to be released.

    I don’t have an inherent problem with aquariums though. To be fair, most of the animals found in them around the world have been raised in captivity and don’t know the freedoms or dangers that those in the “wild” do. Not that I’m offering excuses, but there are benefits to both worlds.

  5. Abi July 27, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    Mike – I agree with you that there seems to be a huge benefit (possibly even a need) to have to “make an effort” for both animals in the wild and humans.

    Brian – I actually haven’t visited any animal rescue facilities but now I’ll look out for them! I take your point about animals raised in captivity – to release these animals straight into the wild would probably be a huge mistake.

    Interesting, thoughtful comments expressed here – thanks to everyone who stopped by.

  6. Jade September 9, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    I love marine life and have visited many aquariums all over the world and up until recently viewed them as excellent learning opportunities and entertainment. After watching The Cove (last week), I started rethinking my opinions of aquariums and zoos and capturing animals only for our entertainment. I’m still wavering the thoughts in my mind…

    But having visited so many- there are some aquariums and zoos that rescue hurt animals and help nurse them back to fighting form. Unfortunately, sometimes after being in that loving and carefully cared for environment- they can’t be released back into the wild. For this act, I’m very thankful that there are aquariums and zoos so that the animals don’t have to die and suffer.

  7. Abi September 11, 2010 at 3:53 am #

    I really hadn’t appreciated the animal rescue aspect, which clearly seems a good idea. Perhaps there’s still an opportunity to provide some more space, though. Tricky…but great to hear so many different points of view.

  8. Name Tags November 8, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    I love going to aquariums all around the world. I have not made it here, but it sounds like it would be well worth the trip.

  9. Pablo March 4, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    If you visit Spain and you will know a very rare aquarium where you can see amongst different tropical fishes two men who dugig 2 hours are staying in the wáter to give food to many sharks, there is in ROQUETAS DEL MAR (Almeria)

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