Sunday, November 13, 2011

And what about that dead Great White?

Captive Great White - in real bad shape.

Are you ready for another rant?
So there!

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has killed a Great White Sharks and nobody gives a shit.
Yes read that again: they killed an endangered and fully protected Great White Shark, one of maybe (but not likely) only 219 of California's most revered, beloved and also feared iconic marine apex predators.

And yet, the silence has been deafening.
No investigation, no statements by the token Sesselfurzers and resident researchers, no irate blog posts, no articles in the Californian media, no ABC specials - nada de nada de nada de nada!
Compare that to this incident where somebody very likely made an honest mistake and above all, to the total shit storm that befell Michael Domeier for not killing a Great White and you really got to wonder, WTF is going on there?

Did I hear, just an unfortunate accident? Well yes, maybe.
But then again, this is certainly not an isolated event.
Way back in 2005, the Underwater Times published a series of pictures of a captive GW whose nose had been ground to a pulp by continuously bumping against the tank's window, see the picture on top. Two years later, having obviously learned nothing or more likely, changed nothing, they released yet another Shark with snout abrasions. Later on, a GW was released because it was brawling with other aquarium occupants.
And now this. I read about changes in how he was navigating, then I read that based on the shark’s behavior and overall condition prior to release, our white shark team had every confidence that he would do well back in the wild and that the Shark swam off looking strong.

DEMA is the place where one meets the coolest people and it just so happens that I had a chat with a prominent Shark person who just happened to have seen that very Shark in the MBA just a short while prior. The Shark was doing very badly, listlessly scraping up against the aquarium wall and then sinking back down, the way every aquarist knows dying Fish do. This was not navigating, this was a prolonged agony and the overall condition was appalling.
We had a long conversation about this and I asked many precise questions, so this is not just some stupid malevolent hearsay, this is a first hand witness account by somebody who knows Sharks intimately and has no agenda whatsoever in this matter, you'd be amazed if I told you his name.
From everything I can discern, that Shark was moribund and the staff quickly disposed of it so it wouldn't die in front of the public.

Now, don't get me wrong here.
The MBA folks are good people doing excellent things for Shark conservation. Much of the incremental millions raked in by the captive GWs are being re-invested into stellar Shark research into California's GWs. and the Californian sharktivists certainly owe them for having largely funded the push for the recent Shark fin ban - and the list of achievements goes on and on, very much including their excellent Sea Food Watch. Plus, I do respect them for having broken the news themselves, tho I did not like the vagueness and the spin.
The value of the research on the Shark whilst in captivity? Not convinced - but if Domeier himself says it is so it may well be true, tho it is certainly not the primary reason, let alone a necessity justifying the captive program.
Also, there are undoubtedly (controversial) educational and conservation-related benefits in displaying charismatic megafauna in both zoos and aquariums where the animals act as important (and very likely, highly lucrative!) ambassadors for their endangered brethren in the wild.
And finally, I'm also not at all implying that loosing a juvenile GW is in any way an ecological catastrophe or a threat to the population or what have you. Compared to the gauntlet fishery down in Baja (and here!) that is killing scores of juvenile YOYs this is nothing but a statistical blip.

This surely cannot mean that all of what the MBA folks do is automatically above scrutiny - or does it?
This is but the latest and alas, monumental cock-up in what appears to be a long uninterrupted string of failures and I say, there must be a moment of accountability after a failure of such dimensions. And yes that includes some robust and public discussion - very much looking forward to the husbandry team's review (of) its procedures and protocols!

I say this.
It is glaringly obvious that GWs were never meant to be kept in aquaria and that they fare very badly there. Despite of the unquestionable successes of the husbandry team, it surely cannot be good to simply accept that the animals are regularly injured, let alone killed like in the present case. Like with those tags, the gizmo needs to be fixed before introducing the next specimen. Yes it raises the exact same conundrums about costs vs benefits and ethics etc but like there, it is simply not acceptable to continue with business as usual just because the answers are difficult to come by.
Maybe those GWs need to be kept in a purpose built (circular?) tank like those for other pelagic Fishes like Mahi-Mahi, this possibly in isolation in order to avoid harmful interactions. Maybe there are other better and cheaper solutions.
But maybe, it simply cannot be properly done - and then, it shouldn't.

But as always, that would be just me.
Still: co-bloggers, habitual ranters and shit stirrers - I must say, I'm frankly underwhelmed!
I thought that as a collective, we were less timid and politically correct than that? Is this a case of collective californication - or am I just barking up the completely wrong tree here?

Comments welcome!

PS mirabile dictu, I would have to agree with Sean!


Rudy said...

The majority of zoos and aquariums in this country are not profitable. They rely on some public funding in addition to gift store sales and fund raising events to get by.

In the United States more than 85% of our population lives in metro or suburban areas and only have minimal contact with wildlife and zero contact with any apex predators. Zoos and aquariums are the only place where they can get a sense of what wild animals are.

Seeing an animal on TV does not give anyone a perspective on size, weight or strength.

One comment that many zookeepers often hear from children is that they thought an animal like an elephant was only so big - they spread their hands apart. The distance between their hands is how big an elephant appears on their TV screen at home.

DaShark said...

Fair enough.

As per my link, I very much approve of the valuable ambassador role that animals kept in zoos and aquaria play - but not at the price of the animal's well being.

If damage to the animals cannot be avoided, then it's the usual matter of weighing risks vs benefits.

In this specific case I say that they need to implement some changes, likely to the infrastructure, before welcoming the next GW.

Anonymous said...

Those of us who live in the Monterey area and have tried to make the Monterey Bay Aquarium "do the right thing" have simply gotten tired. MBA is a major employer around here, they are pretty arrogant, and they are convinced that they are right. What they are doing with the great white sharks is unforgivable and hypocritical. They are catching juveniles, causing stress, and undoubtedly doing harm to the great white shark population.

Curt said...

If MBA does not learn from their mistakes and keep trying the same tactics when they are obviously not working then I agree they should stop trying, but if they are trying to find the exact balance to make the project work I think the benefits will out way the negative. Stupid humans around the world will never give them a chance to repopulate on their own.

Anonymous said...

I live and teach SCUBA in Monterey. I have friends and know people that work with the sharks. They were devastated by the news of this great white and have learned a lot from each shark.

They are scientist and biologist that don't just keep doing the same thing. Hello you mention all the good MBA does. Your source about the shark swimming up the tank and sliding down like a dying fish is just not true. This shark is on display 7 days a week for the public to see.

Please don't bash what you are not aware of. Our entire community is about our backyard.

We are proud of our aquarium. This article is utter bullshit and it wasn't just slid under the rug. They don't think they are above scutiny either. They are learning. Just like doctors do in a hospital. I believe they call it "Practicing Medicine". If we investigated that think of the time wasted with doctors going to court and having licenses taken. It is all a learning process.

Go onto something more worth while. Like how about Japs that harpoon and kill whales slowly. Haul them onto their decks and cut them up into bits to sale to the public and call that RESEARCH. there a thought.

Anonymous said...

Keeping an animal that no one has been able to keep in captivity is less about education and more about money. They need to adjust their strategy if they want to try again, not just keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

If the Japanese are worse, that doesn't mean what the MBA does is acceptable. They should actually be held to a higher standard.

I enjoyed your rant.

Barbara said...

where are the publications if MBA has learned so much from torturing these animals? the first GWS looked bad enough i find it offending that they continued after this to keep more sharks in captivity. the sharks are kept until their condition is so bad that they have to be released. and this is called RESEARCH? as a scientist working with sharks and rays i find this a disgrace.

Teagan said...

I completely agree with Barbara. Even the Japanese have produced (at least one) scientific publication(s) regarding their "research" (though it was published in a Norwegian journal- surprise, surprise).

If the animals are constantly producing symptoms of stress or physical damage (as it appears in the media), then MBA needs to completely review their program and its policies. It is hard to keep large pelagic fish in small facilities (compared to the ocean)- when health issues do arise it is near impossible for a vet to treat them. Even if they did carry out "treatments" this is further causing undue stress. Christ.

Some places just need a fire lit under their a$$ (MBA, dolphinariums, sea world). This was a tragedy, and I believe the lesson learned here is that some animals simply cannot be kept in activity- not just large sharks- but dolphins ( and orcas ( - amongst many more).

There is a big industry in GWS eco-tourism, why can't they switch to that? Money shouldn't be an issue (especially if they really do care about GWS welfare).

Finally I'd like to ask where is their Animal Care and Ethics Committee? How are they allowing this? In an application of my own, I calculated the wrong anesthetic dosage and they picked up on it and made changes- how the heck did this just "slip" through their fingers.

Anonymous said...

They should not be kept in captivity. Full stop!!!

Anonymous said...

Whatever has been said in this blog, yet again the human race playing god!!! This topic would not be up for discussion if we left alone!!! A beautiful and essential apex predator. Don't think I have ever seen a GW walking down my local high street with a fishing rod, hook or net!!! Or come to think of it throwing fish guts around just so can gawp and train to associate people with food!!! Leave them be!!!

DaShark said...

Alas, we don't have that option.
We're approx 6.5 billion people too many for leaving anything alone!

Nowadays, the issue at hand is the need for protecting and managing biodiversity - and zoos and aquaria do undoubtedly play a valuable role in that respect.

The post is about whether GWs should and can be kept in captivity, and whether the MBA needs to learn from past experiences and adapt its protocols accordingly - or abandon trying to keep captive GWs altogether.

My take is that if showcasing those GWs can be done without harming the animals, then the advantages clearly outweigh the possible risks.
But at the same time, I advocate a robust discussion and also the absolute need to change the present protocols that clearly appear to be inadequate.

Anonymous said...

They should not be kept in captivity, no animal should be. Being in their natural enviroment is what is best for any species. We can learn from them in the wild, seeing natural behaviour.

Anonymous said...

It's just a fish people; get over it!