Thursday, September 18, 2014

Zoo Rant Week: Why ocean animals are tricky to talk about

Read part one here.
Read part two here.
Read part three here.

This whole rant is thanks to BLACKFISH, and most of my examples so far have been land animals. So it's time to talk about the ocean, the animals that live there, and why there's no easy answer to any argument about them.

It boils down to this, and it's pretty common sense:

The ocean is huge.

There are tens of millions of species that live in the ocean.

We haven't even scraped a corner of a piece of a smidge off the everything there is to know about the ocean.

The Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the ocean, was visited once in 1960 by a manned submersible, and only three other times by robotic subs. We've been to the moon more times than the deepest part of our own planet.

But, somehow, we're still making it a miserable place for animals to live.

Did you know there's a giant floating island of garbage in the middle of the Pacific?

Did you know there are international sanctions and agreements against whaling, but several countries openly ignore those sanctions and do it anyway? For whatever reason, it's not considered poaching, because it's the ocean.

Did you know that if we don't find a way to reverse or even just stop climate change, we can expect rising sea levels and changes in the makeup of our oceans that could cause mass extinctions of many different species, not only in the water, but on land?

SeaWorld is one of only two facilities in the world that have successfully bred emperor penguins outside of Antarctica. These birds require extremely specialized care and conditions to successfully breed, and their habitat is threatened every day by the loss of Antarctic sea ice, rising sea levels, and warmer summer extremes in the Antarctic.

Having said all that, the biggest challenge that faces us in the debate about zoos keeping whales and dolphins is that we simply don't know everything about sea animals. It's impossible to study them thoroughly in the wild. All the speculation about the lifespans of whales is just that: speculation. We haven't been recording the same animals for long enough to know for sure how long they live. But they certainly face more challenges in the wild than they do in a zoo, and their average lifespans are certainly not the oft-spouted high numbers. My great-grandmother lived to be 106, but that doesn't mean I will. Nor will most people.

Sea animals present us with a number of challenges because we simply can't say anything for certain about their lifestyles and habits. We can guess, but we can't know. At least not yet.

In the meantime, we do everything we can to keep our animals healthy, mentally and physically.

Tomorrow: What the future holds for zoos