25.11.05

To have, or not

The new Georgia Aquarium, touted as the world's largest opened this week, a gift from Home Depot's co-founder Bernie Marcus. The facility boasts 6 million gallon tank, housing over 100,000 live residents representing 500 species with research facilities, guided tours and underwater viewing corridors all created for the edification and appreciation of the citizens of Atlanta and their visitors.

The Aquarium has gathered rave reviews with media attention from around the world and promises to be a boon to Atlanta's tourism industry, a key element in this stately southern enclave already renowned for its gracious life style and erudite atmosphere.

There is another, more sinister side to the story however and one that too often is overlooked by CNN's herd mentality, the story behind the facade, the story of the animals. Two whale sharks measuring 15 feet and growing named Norton and Ralph who will in time grow to as much a 40 ft and 9000 lbs will live out their long lives in a "bottle" less than 270 feet long x 126 feet wide and 33 feet deep, roughly the equivalent of a human room measuring 36' x 17' x 6'. Whale sharks the largest fish in the world’s ocean are believed to range thousands miles a year as it navigates the ocean in search of plankton and mating grounds. The Georgia Aquarium is a confined existence indeed for such a nomadic species, one that we know so little about.

Aquariums like zoos are best described as little more than comfortable confinement and painful imprisonment at worst for countless species that we as humans have arbitrarily choosen to confine.

We know another facility, not as glossy or well funded but which has another agenda entirely. When it comes to the housing of marine creatures, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and rescue facility in Florida has, over the years, gained a well deserved reputation for rescuing and rehabilitating distressed marine animals. Those that can be safely returned to their native habitat are and those either too damaged or too frail will be kept in relative safety and comfort at the aquarium for the remainder of their natural lives. Earlier this year we had a chance to attend one of CMA's release events for a group of Loggerhead sea turtles this is the pictoral record of that day.

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