Course:CONS200/2016w2/Wiki Projects/Marine Aquaria and Zoological Gardens

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Nature of the Problem

Background (Xibo)

Captive animals in zoos and aquariums are taken form their original habitat they rely on, and then are put into an artificial environment, which are considered to be suitable for them to live in by human beings. This happens all around the world, because the huge profit brought by numerous tourists in zoos and aquariums, and for the sake of education. In fact, the earliest zoo was discovered in Egypt in 35th century BC, when the largest Egypt urban centre was built[1]. Human beings are always obsessed with having power over others, therefore, throughout the history; people from royal family often had huge collection of animals on their property for entertainment[1]. Moreover, animal training can be traced back to Roman Empire, when massive people and animal slaughter were very popular for bloodlust[2]. Then in 19th century, animal circus started to thrive with animal stunts and other magical tricks[3].

The Welfare of Animals in Captivity (Xibo)

Nowadays, almost every city has its own zoos and aquariums, and those animals in captivity are claimed to be healthy and happy. However, the living conditions for wild animals are extremely poor, and the cruelty behind animal performance cannot be ignored. In terms of zoos, the Panthera genus (big cats), which mainly includes lion, tiger, jaguar, and leopard, is the essential element of an attractive zoo[4]. These animals are supposed to live in places like Africa savanna, where they can run freely, and where they can live a certain lifestyle of being predators. However in zoos, they are kept in small cages at night, and they are allowed in bigger cages during the day for tourists to see. Feeding by zookeepers, their instinct to prey is prohibited. For species like wildebeest are supposed to migrate every year for seasonal water resources to survive, and this annual migration is considered to be a miracle of nature[4]. Although their life in zoos seem to be easier without hundreds of kilo meters of migration, their purpose of survival is deprived by captivity. In addition, animal performance takes place in almost every zoo, and to train a tiger to jump through a ring of fire involves lots of punishment. Wild animals are not supposed to do tricks. In terms of aquariums, issue of captivity is more severe, because of the relative size of ocean to lands. In order to attract tourists, large marine mammals such as killer whale, white whales are hunted down for exhibition. The huge tank in aquariums is often filled with water, and with nothing else. Whales can only swim back and forth, and the environment is not even close to their original habitats. Whale performance in many Sea Worlds is very famous, and people are willing to pay expensive tickets to see them. Although, whales are not as aggressive as tigers, they are wild animals. In fact, several accidents in killer whale performance or training have happened, and attention for welfare of animals in captivity is increased[5]. With current situation, if no remedial action is taken, then all the animals in captivity will suffer for the rest of their lives, while human beings take all the advantages of them.

Mental Health of Animals in Captivity (Yinhao)

Some people suffer from psychological disorders like anxiety and depression and treat them as unique human problems. However, a lot of animals also suffer from those problems due to captivity in marine aquarium and zoological gardens.Though lots of zoos and aquariums tries to replicate the original habitats that animals are used to in the wild, captivity in zoos and aquariums cannot give animals best living circumstances. Without some natural necessity such as social and environmental interaction, animals in zoos and aquariums fail to live commonly like other wild lives thus becoming excessively sad, anxious, or even traumatised. Moreover, those animals also tend to be deprived of all controls of their lives. At present, it is common to see zoos and aquariums build so-called toys for animals to play with. However, this act seems to only fulfill human’s interests and attracts more visitors but has few positive influence on animals mental health as those animals still cannot get access to the wild through those toys. Animals could only feel more pressure from those unfamiliar toys and visitors. Consequently , those animals live uncomfortably.

Freedom Issue on Animals in Captivity (Yinhao)

Apart from psychological disorders, animals’ freedom also becomes a great concern. Leaving animals in tiny enclosure space with no enrichment is unnatural for those animals. They have to abandon their natural instincts but are forced to have activity in limited space. Also, some animal’s life span even become shorter when they are restricted in zoos and aquariums.[6]

Stakeholders in This Issue

Hunted Animals (Xibo)

Hunted Animals are considered to be affected stakeholders in this issue, because when they are kept in captivity, some of them die. While human beings are enjoying the great pleasure brought by all kinds of creatures in zoos and aquariums, these captive animals lost their freedom and family. Especially for hunted ones, rest of their lives are gone for being a victim of commercial experiment. Animals in captivity often have shorter lifespan than those in the wild due to constant stress of being confines[7]. Therefore, hunted animals are negatively affected in zoological gardens and marine aquaria.

Zoo Born Animals (Yinhao)

Zoo born animals are animals that do not have access to their original natural habitats and grow under the captive breeding programs run by zoos and aquariums. The vast majority of captive breeding programs do not release animals back into the wild. The offspring are forever part of the chain of zoos and aquariums, circuses, petting zoo or even become part of the trade for different purposes like selling to laboratories, traveling shows or even to private individuals who may be unqualified to care for them.[8]


Young child in a petting zoo. Robert Lawton. CC By-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Children are the main type of visitors in aquariums and zoos. Childhood might be the best time to cultivate interest and gain new knowledge in one’s lifetime, thus, experiencing new things is crucially important, also, it is adults’ duty to educate them well during this period. Visiting a zoo or an aquarium can expand children’s knowledge about animals. In addition, gaining direct contact with different animals can expose children to new behaviors such as learning why and how should they treat animals nicely, therefore learning to be kind and sympathetic in their lives.

Evidence of the Problem (Yinhao and Xibo)

According to National Geographic News, lifespan of a zoo-born elephant is shockingly less than a half of lifespan of a wild elephant, who lives an average life of 56 years[7]. Elephant circus is one of the oldest animal performance act, and according to Carmeli, in his article “The Sight of Cruelty: The Case of Circus Animal Acts”, he discussed the violent punishment taken by trainer with a shovel[7]. He also indicated the great excitement created by seeing large animals like elephant being obedient to people[7]. Although in the article, Carmeli made most arguments based on a British traveling circus: Gerry Cottle’s Circus between 1975 and 1979, the cruelty of elephant performance is seen all around the world today[7]. Another famous example of animal in captivity is the story of Tilikum, a killer whale drowned its trainer during a show[5]. In Weekly Readers, reporter Bubar illustrates the tragic story of Tilikum, and argued that whether keeping killer whales in captivity should continue. He suggests that killer whales are constantly under stress being confined, and therefore, these orcas become more aggressive[5]. Also, the fact that killer whales have large family of up to 50 individuals, and they communicate with each other constantly, explains the shorter lifespan and worse health condition of them in aquariums[5]. To increase the awareness of marine animal in captivity, "Blackfish", a documentary film of Tilikum’s story came out in 2013, and it reveals the ignorance of people in killer whales and sea-park industry[9].

Animals act abnormally in response to the inadequate living environment. We often identify psychological disorders seen on those animals in zoos and aquariums through abnormal behaviors which refer to behaviors that are not formally observed when those animals are in natural habitats. Stereotype ( no-human) is one of the abnormal behaviors which refer to a group of phenotypic behaviours that are repetitive, morphologically identical and which possess no obvious goal or function[10]. Examples of stereotype includes pacing, rocking, swimming in circles, excessive sleeping, self-mutilation (including feather picking and excessive grooming), and mouthing cage bars[10]. For mouthing cage bars, many visitors misinterpret this action as the animal’s attempt to say “hello” to them in the zoo, but sadly it is actually more of a call for help than a happy greeting[11]. This behavior supposes to mimic the process of food consumption. However, it is often seen when absence of food on those animals.

Issues with freedom is essential to all the animals. Wild Tigers, the largest of the big cats, can weigh up to 850 pounds[6]. Territorial and solitary, but also social animals, they often live and travel across a habitat that can span across 7.7 square miles for female tigers, to 23 to 39 square miles for male tigers[6]. They love water and are excellent swimmers. However, when kept in zoos, as one of the king of the beasts, tiger have been shown to be 500 times more deadly than dogs in the United States[12][6].For Orcas, the huge mammal living in ocean, they also get limited space. Orca tends to swim up 100 miles a day in the wild. However, they could only live in far more smaller tank when they are kept in aquarium[13]. Even at SeaWorld Orlando, which builds the largest tank for the orca, is only 170 feet long[13]

Benefits of Zoos and Aquariums in Urban Settings (Monica)

Different benefits that aquariums and zoos bring to human beings

The role of zoos and aquariums in modern world is significant. It is significant in the sense that they provide educational, mental, social, recreational, and economical benefits to different parts of the society.[14]

School children learning about birds. Gentry George, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


From an educational perspective, the role of zoos and aquarium is crucially important. It allows people to directly observe and gain contact with many species of wildlife at the same time. A visit to the zoo and the aquarium not only increases people’s knowledge of different species of animals, but also increases people’s awareness of the diversity of life on earth. For students who are doing research on animals, zoos and aquariums are wonderful places to collect data for their researches. In addition, when people look at animal species that are about to extinct, they feel a sense of sympathy and compassion towards them. For children, a visit to zoos or aquariums may awaken or increase their curiosity and interest towards animals. [15]

Health benefits

Being away from the crowded city life and different kinds of pollution such as air pollution and noise pollution, visiting a zoo or an aquarium makes people feel peaceful and relaxed. While it is harder and harder to find places that are quiet in the city, aquarium is a wonderful place for people to discover the tranquility within one’s heart. People who spend time watching aquariums and fish tanks could see improvements in their physical and mental well-being, according to new research published in the journal Environment & Behavior. While feeling relaxed, people can also feel like they are in a state of nature, which is a sensation that people can never gain in their ordinary lives. In addition, certain animals have a healing effect on people. For example, dolphins have therapeutic effect on patients with depression. They produce a high frequency sound that helps those patients to heal their disease.[16][17]

Recreational and Social

Socialization is indispensable in everyone’s life. People make friends, improve relationships as well as maintain mental health through socializing. However, nowadays, due to busy lifestyle in cities, the time dedicated to interactions with nature becomes so rare and precious, and this need to be fixed in some ways. Zoos and aquariums are great places that can bring friends together during spare time to maintain and improve relationships. In addition, these places can not only bring friends together, but can also bring strangers with the same interest together and make friends. Zoos and aquariums are like parks in the neighborhood, but they are places better than a general park, because it is more fun with all the animals close to and interacting with people, bringing a feeling of novelty. They are also great places to have a date for young couples.


Establishing a zoo or aquarium in the city can have a significant effect on economy. Zoos and aquariums not only provide people a place to have fun, but also bring a lot of work opportunities into the area. A zoo or an aquarium requires many types of workers such as staffs, managers, president, and cleaners. Some of these duties do not require a high level of education, thus it reduces the unemployment rate. In addition, an unique and special zoo or aquarium can attract many tourists to the area, and this can have a positive effect on economy.

Different benefits that aquariums and zoos bring to animals

The creation of the zoo and aquarium brings benefits to both people and animals. While providing people a place to enjoy themselves, zoos and aquariums also bring animals a safe place to live and provide them medical cares.


Animals’ lives and biodiversity are mainly the most important thing to protect. Zoos and aquariums provide a place for endangered species to stay safe and help increase the population of those animals. Rescuing endangered species is so important that “preserving these species allows researchers to study them in their natural habitats. ... Protecting endangered animals also provides a self-indulgent benefit to humans, as some animal species could provide additional food sources once their populations are restored to safe levels.”[18] Except for those endangered species, for other animal species in general, zoos and aquariums provide them a better living conditions and provide them a life without worries.

Case Study: Vancouver Aquarium (Carolina)

As previously explained, aquaria and zoos provide different benefits for both humans and animals. The impact both institutions have in urban settings varies from installation to installation. The Vancouver Aquarium will be used as a case study to exemplify all the positive impacts that are supported by these institutions.

The multiple initiatives in which the aquarium is involved are highlighted at its website. A few of the important supports that the aquarium provides to the animal´s wellbeing include education, animal rescue, research and conservation. [19]

The aquarium carries out many events that promote the interest of the public to learn and protect creatures that are native to British Columbia. These events include the Marine Mammal Rescue Center, the wild killer whale research and the Great Canadian Shoreline CleanupTM.


One of the biggest attributes that aquaria and zoos provide to society is information regarding the animals that are in the center. In Vancouver Aquarium, information about each animal includes things such as their physiology, diet and environment. This provides the people with information that might captivate them and may lead to an interest in supporting conservation efforts regarding those animals. The program BC Hydro AquaVan, consists in educators travelling across the province providing interactive activities to students in British Columbia that involve live animals and promotes bonding between kids and nature. [20]

Animal Rescue

The health benefits provided by aquariums are demonstrated not only to be beneficial to humans as a separation from the business of the city but it also provides a support program for animals that need help. With their unique facility, The Mammal Rescue Center, the Vancouver Aquarium contributes to the welfare and conservation of the animals. This program allows the aquarium to be involved in the rescue and treatment of different animals and provides with a rescue call center at which people are encourage to call if they see an animal in distress. [21] They have helped repopulate species such as Black Rockfish, study killer whales and cure seals. [20] Also, the aquarium’s Second Chance program encompasses rehabilitation and release procedures which have as their main goal to return animals to their natural environment where they can thrive independently. Along with GPS tracking systems, released animals such as dolphins can provide essential information and further understanding of animal’s behavior which can result in the design of better fishing practices.[22] Programs such as these provide further interaction between scientists and animals that enables humans to manage their actions carefully to continue to work for the wellbeing of the animals.


Another useful way in which the Vancouver Aquarium motivates knowledge of wild animals is through its programs of research both in the wild and in captivity. The Vancouver Aquarium is recognized worldwide for its extensive research on killer whales’ acoustics and DNA analysis as well as its research on belugas’ behavior. [22] Most of the studies would be arduous to perform in the wild, the Vancouver Aquarium provides a space for scientist to keep track constantly of the animals and perform precise analysis. Programs such as the B.C. Cetaceans Sightings Network which promotes the people to communicate with the scientists whenever they see a whale and those sightings provide the scientist with data that helps determine the cetacean population conditions. [20] Volunteer divers also help to gather data conducting fish research surveys including lingcod and rockfish population surveys.


The aquarium has come up with solutions that focus on conserving nature. A couple of its initiatives are promoting consumer´s wise purchasing decisions, protecting areas essential for marine populations and maintaining the beach clean. The Ocean WiseTM initiative created by the Vancouver Aquarium, helps consumers make the right choice on which seafood product to buy.[20] Any product with Ocean WiseTM label indicates the buyer that this product has been sustainably obtained. Additionally, to promote sustainable consumption, the aquarium claims that is working on establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) in British Columbia.[20] The MPA would be areas in which marine animals will not suffer from any threat carried out by humans and a place where their population can thrive. Lastly, the Vancouver Aquarium along with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), promotes the health of the beaches by carrying out the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. [23] By keeping the beaches clean, both the people and the animals can be healthy and safe. Since 1994, this program has removed more than 1 million kilograms of litter from BC shorelines. [23] The engagement of volunteers is greatly encouraged and this initiative is carried out yearly to remind citizens the importance of living in harmony and balance with our environment.

Sponsors and Partnerships

Finally, the Vancouver Aquarium recognizes all its partners and encourages people’s donations to be able to afford all the programs it is involved with. It relies on a portion generated from revenue, corporate and organizational partners (such as Port of Vancouver and Shell), sponsors (such as London Drugs and Imperial) and individual donors. [20][24] This world known aquarium is an example of how positive human actions along with its installations can come together with natural environments and its creatures to provide future wellbeing for both humans and animals.


Topic Summary (Xibo)

To conclude, zoological gardens and marine aquariums in urban settings have been controversial over decades. Although the form of these facilities have improved over time, the essential concept of animal seclusion has not been changed. The two major stakeholders in this topic include animals and human beings. From animal's perspective, zoos and aquariums have disrupted their way of life, and their mental states are ignored. For the majority of animals, they have been treated without humanity. In terms of perspectives of human beings, zoos and aquariums provide educational opportunities for people to learn about other organisms. Also, animals in captivity enable people to have real contact and interaction with them. Moreover, conservation of threatened species can be protected through means like zoos and aquariums, although instead of only caring for physical existence, psychological welfare should also be considered.

Solutions (Carolina and Monica)

Having in mind the controversies generated by animals being secluded from their natural environment gives space for people to come up with solutions that would reduce the negative aspects carried out by zoos and aquariums. One of the major problems in aquarium as previously discussed was animal seclusion from their natural environment. The solution for this aspect is having a transition and release program and requiring zoos to display only animals that were rescued. The reintegration program will change the purpose of the zoos and aquariums. Their new goal would be to act as facilitators for the re-integration of the animals to their natural environment. The transition program would consist of using the aquarium facilities to expose the animals to a stimulative wild environment in an attempt to help the animals be capable of surviving by their own in the wild.

Reintroduction of wolves to their habitats. National Park Service. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, many animals are taken into the zoos or aquariums for the entertainment and profit they can bring to humans. Animals were not born with the duty to entertain humans and serve as revenue agents. However, humans will not be able to assist the animals if facilities do not use that revenue to help the animals. People should regulate what events are reasonable to make profits from and how those profits should be used to guarantee the well-being of the animals. First, the main goal of the zoo or aquarium should not be to entertain humans from animal´s performances. Additionally, the zoo or aquarium should regulate the use of profits and distribute them to maintenance of the installation and investment in proper safeguarding of the animals; and also invest in research to acquire new knowledge on how to conserve animals and their natural environments.

Proposal (Yinhao)

Overall, sole focus on either humans or animals could only make the presence of zoos and aquariums continue to be the argument. The force of government and more system regulation is expected. As all the measures taken by zoos and aquariums should respect animals, the presence of zoos and aquariums should be another shelter for those animals who need help. Government should organize supervision groups to inspect those zoos and aquariums which held unlimited animal shows and provides space that fails to fulfill animals’ nature necessity. Moreover, instead of considering profits and providing entertainment, government should regulate zoos and aquariums as places for people to learn more about animals. Through understanding those rescued animals and endangered species in breeding programs, more and more people can realize the dilemma those animals are facing. Instead of have no concerns with animals, more and more people can determine to protect animals and conserve the nature.

Layering Perspectives

In this section we welcome contributions from scholars and students to identify additional relevant actors and to widen the scope of possible in addressing the implications associated with aquariums and zoos.


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