Last week, I took to the streets of Boston with my GoPro and visited the New England Aquarium, eager to see the aquatic life and get some pretty shots. I didn’t even get inside before realizing it was more realistic to assume I’d be shooting an exposé. Seeing the too-small seal exhibit sitting outside by the harbor with yellow tubes sticking out of walls and hundreds of hands knocking against the glass was pretty telling about what I was going to see inside. Pictured above, you’ll see a giant mural to greet aquarium-goers- it boasts a giant whale and a gorgeous piece of artwork showcasing the Earth, with the words “PROTECT THE BLUE PLANET” sprawled across the top. I’ve also included a few shots of a wall exhibit that encourages readers to “live blue”, and begins to talk about the Aquarium’s impact (which is just a claim that they educate customers about sustainable fishing practices, which don’t even entirely exist, but, I digress). These are just a few pieces of media (maybe someday WordPress will let me use my own videos) that, when seen next to the others, hopefully show how these touches are a greenwashing attempt to appease the noise-making activists (such as myself) that question the morality of animal captivity and the ethics of aquariums and zoos. The other pictures I’ve attached show an overcrowded touch tank (I stood there for about twenty minutes, and more people came than left), overcrowded exhibits with tiny animals and big noise (not to mention the hundreds of hands on the glass), and artificial corals/rocks/aquascapes that are pleasing to the eye, but not conducive for the growth of beneficial bacteria or plant life. Penguins swam in pools- the background was usually vents or plumbing equipment- visitors used flash photography on tanks with live animals inside, giant sea turtles barely moved, and perhaps the most disheartening sight of all was at the end of my aquarium day. The sea lion gallery was its own see-through room covered in ceiling-high windows. A few sea lions swam in a pool that was not even close to the size of the courtyard I crossed to get into the building. And through those big windows, of course, was a grand view of the ocean, just a few seconds away. You may think, well, captive animals can’t be released and actually survive, not for very long, anyway. What else are we supposed to do? And although animal captivity was born unnecessarily in the interest of money and business, it is something that must be seen through. The captive animals who exist in aquariums must live it out. And afterwards, there must be no more wild-caught animals on display. The ocean sustains us, and these animals sustain the ocean. We cannot cut out the middle man by using sea life as a cash grab. Aquariums are not sustainable. Zoos are not sustainable. Rescue, rehabilitation, and release programs are the only ethical way to run aquariums, in my loud opinion. And since most do not have these in place, I must at the very least pose the question- how do you feel about animal captivity? All perspectives are interesting to me. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts below! I leave you with one last sentiment- the pictures I’ve attached below (curated through google searches and many, many pinterest boards) are of what these animals were meant to look like- free, in the wild, and where they always belonged.
Writing & New England Aquarium photography by: Anna Olivia Georgoulas