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#7846
Georgia Aquarium Whale Shark Diving?
sharkdiver73 - 6/25/2008 11:07 AM
Category: Travel
Replies: 23

Thought we would open the conversation to this latest news from Georgia. We came down on one side of the the issue. But for interest how many of you out there agree. The topic:

Which is better?

1. Allowing divers to swim with whale sharks at the Georgia AQ?
2. Wild encounters?

Here’s what we blogged:
There’s little good to say about the Georgia Aquariums decision to allow divers into the premier whale shark exhibit. We blogged about this months ago when they first announced the idea. Now it seems they have started the program and the L.A Times was there to document some of the first dives.

From the L.A Times article let us plainly show you why this is not a good idea, "A diver named Kevin xxx broke into a flailing aquatic break-dance."

As an aquarium who’s animals are already pulling "double duty", all of these magnificent animals are on a one way trip, adding paying divers to the mix is just plain wrong. Adding divers who feel that breaking into "a flailing aquatic break-dance" is a good idea-even worse.

It comes down to respect. Respect for the animals, respect for the aquariums legacy, respect for the idea of animal ambassadors. In a rush to increase corporate profits and bolster slowing attendance rates it would seem the Georgia Aquarium has lost its way.

There’s an old saying here, and never truer in the case of the Georgia Aquarium "Just because you can do a thing, does not mean you should do it".

What are your thoughts?
#4846
Eve - 6/25/2008 1:13 PM
I totally agree with you, I know that those "paying divers " do not know were the money really goes. Does it go to saving other sea creatures? I think not. Does it go to support the aquarium, pretty sure it does. I am nuts about not disrupting nature as it was intended. I do not swim with the dolphins unless it is in their natural habitat and I feel that divers are the ones most intune as to their surroundings and should do all they can to protect it. For those divers paying to dive the aquarium instead of the ocean shame on you !


Eve
#7846
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sharkdiver73 - 6/25/2008 1:34 PM
Thanks for the post Eve. That’s one for non diving, any other thoughts?
#1001
Bonnielynn - 6/26/2008 1:19 PM
Yes, the argument on the other side of the coin is that it gives people a chance to see what is in the ocean........things they may never encounter otherwise, and for educational purposes it may be argued as such.


But I do not believe in taking animals out of their environment and putting them in tanks in aquariums. Captive animals life spans can be severely decreased by doing this. I have a difficult time with captivity......aquariums, circuses and the like.


So my vote is that there should be no whalesharkdiving in the Georgia Aquarium, because I think the whalesharks should not be there in the first place.
#3933
seawolfdiving - 6/26/2008 2:38 PM
What I want to know is "How big is this aquarium"? Are these adult whale sharks? Do they have enough room to move and function properly?
#7846
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sharkdiver73 - 6/26/2008 3:09 PM
Hi Sea Wolf,

The Aquarium is simply huge and yes, they have enough room to move around. We were there three months ago on a visit, impressive place. These animals are sub adults, adult animals would be too hard to move around.
#4846
Eve - 6/26/2008 4:11 PM
I am by no means an expert and probably not even considered an amatuer but my thoughts are this, do these whalesharks migrate? If so the size of the aquarium is of no matter. It sounds as if it is impressive, I cannot truly judge since I have not seen it. The only time I agree on captivity is when an animal for medical reasons cannot be returned to its natural enviroment. If the animal was captured from the wild simply to be put in the aquarium is a mistake . It is the same as jailing innocent people.
#3933
seawolfdiving - 6/26/2008 9:05 PM
…is just wondering “to what purpose do we encage these leviathan”. The most convincing argument that we have heard is to study, to do research on them. Keeping them in captivity provides a unique opportunity to observe them. We ask “to observe them doing what?”

Will we be able to observe their natural social behaviors while they are our quests in these humble quarters? Will we be able to follow, and thus map their regular migratory pattern? Will we be able to determine their natural dietary habits and nutritional requirements? Or maybe we could learn more about their mating technique.

The next best argument that we have heard is “for the purpose of conservation of the species”. Again, an honorable goal. But shouldn’t we first figure out how to preserve their natural environment. Does it do us any good to conserve a species when there is no place left that is fit for them to live?

And then there is the question “what do we do with these animals when they outgrow their tank?” Rhincodon typus can reach lengths of over 40 ft.

Finally, what can we learn about the whale shark while it is in captivity that can not be learned by tagging and observing it in the wild?

Not sure exactly what position we should take on this issue. But one thing is certain, the situation does raise a lot of questions, and these are just a few…
#113
GADiver - 6/30/2008 12:57 AM
Another perspective:


For those of you less familiar with the Ga Aquarium, a few facts:


- Most of its aquatic residents are rescue or captive born: 75%. Of the rest, none are endangered or restricted. Much of the research done is, in fact, focused on enhancing and perpetuating endangered animals. In fact, it was just announced that one of their leafy sea dragons was carrying eggs. This is a ’blue moon’ event, and the GA is one of the few places equipped to handle it.


- The GA whale sharks were not taken from the wild. In fact, these specific animals were already captive, and slated for someone’s dinner plate, in Taiwan, where up until 2008 Whale Shark harvesting and selling of the meat was legal.


- The exhibit the whale sharks are in (and many others, including hammerheads, sawfish, rays, goliath grouper, etc), is over 6 million gallons largest in the world. The water quality at the aquarium is manually and automatically tested over 1700 times a week. Getting ’behind the scenes’ where you can just see the top of the exhibit, requires stepping through a disinfectant. The care taken to keep from introducing any foreign material is painstaking.


- Two of the belugas, Gasper and Nico were scarred and dying, and rescued from Mexico City where they resided as a side-show, living underneath a roller coaster. Gasper, unfortunately, never fully recovered from his injuries, and ultimately succumbed, however Nico is doing fabulously, and exhibiting mating behavior with Maris, another beluga.


- The feed for all the animals is prepared for four hours the morning it’s dispensed, in a very special anticeptic commissary... over 1100 lbs. of restaurant quality food items. If there is a single abrasion or scratch in any of the items, it is discarded, to minimize the introduction of any bacteria.


- The husbandary/zoological lab is larger by a factor of 10 than the ratio of lab to aquarium in other aquariums. The GA scrub room is larger than the lab in most other facilities.


- Even the live coral is donated by authorities that have confiscated it from illegal coral harvesters. The GA has a huge program to propogate the coral, and do research which will hopefully address some of the plight of coral around the world: bleaching out, and dying due to climatic and intrusion issues.


- This isn’t prepared PR. I’m a volunteer at the GA. I’ve seen all the above.


- As for the dive program. The divers are kept to a small group, and are escorted by specially trained guides, all wearing new, and top of the line gear, that is kept sterile, and that the GA provides. Not only is the introduction of these divers in a 6,300,000 gallon tank hardly noticed by the animals, but those that do notice have simply swam up to take a curious look, and moved on.


There’s much more to talk about. However, I’d recommend if any of you have the opportunity, visit the GA, if you’re in the area. Take the "behind the scenes" tour, and get a glimpse of an amazing facility. I would challenge you to find an operation more dedicated to the care, preservation and continuance of aquatic life.
#4846
Eve - 6/30/2008 7:47 AM
I for one greatly appreciate your knowledge and perspective on this topic. To me and me alone it has made me rethink a few things, I appreciate that the animals are not captured for the aquarium, I appreciate that they are rescued and to me it sounds like they are receiving better then they could in the wild. Thank you for that and someday I will take the trip to the aquarium to visit.


Thank you for your insite. It is always better to get the full the picture.
#113
GADiver - 6/30/2008 10:32 AM
Thanks for keeping an open mind, Eve.


That is exactly one of the reasons the GA, and its exhibits exist: to create more of an understanding of the marine world.


It’s incredibly gratifying how many non-diving visitors come into this place, and leave with an entirely new perspective, attitude, and respect for aquatic life, that we, as divers, already have (hopefully). ;)
#7846
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sharkdiver73 - 6/30/2008 11:25 AM
Thanks for the well thought "other look" at this issue GA Diver. You brought up some great points.
#14518
tardmaster - 6/30/2008 8:04 PM
I am a diver at the aquarium. I dive with them and escort these "paying" divers and swimmers. I dont like it one bit, but I will tell you that as far as i’m concerned, the animals are top priority.
#8590
dalehall - 7/01/2008 6:23 AM
When I first read about Dive Quest (Disney Epcot) and the GA Aquarium diving I thought it was very cool idea. Then I visted Epcot back in May and saw a "diver" in the tank. I used the word "diver" loosely because of all the flailing around he was doing with his arms and legs. After I saw there was no way to police the caliber of divers that were getting in the tank, my opinion of aquarium diving changed. In the wild, if we are spastic bozos in the water, they can just swim away from us. If they are locked in a glass cage, they have no way to get away from those people. As much as I am dying to swim with a Whale Shark, I think I’ll try and do it in the wild and stick to watching the caged ones from the other side of the glass.
In fact, I’ll be at the GA Aquarium this Thursday (3 July) with the family. Trip 2 for this year.


Dale
#14518
tardmaster - 7/01/2008 9:29 AM


Another perspective:


For those of you less familiar with the Ga Aquarium, a few facts:


- Most of its aquatic residents are rescue or captive born: 75%. Of the rest, none are endangered or restricted. Much of the research done is, in fact, focused on enhancing and perpetuating endangered animals. In fact, it was just announced that one of their leafy sea dragons was carrying eggs. This is a ’blue moon’ event, and the GA is one of the few places equipped to handle it.


- The GA whale sharks were not taken from the wild. In fact, these specific animals were already captive, and slated for someone’s dinner plate, in Taiwan, where up until 2008 Whale Shark harvesting and selling of the meat was legal.


- The exhibit the whale sharks are in (and many others, including hammerheads, sawfish, rays, goliath grouper, etc), is over 6 million gallons largest in the world. The water quality at the aquarium is manually and automatically tested over 1700 times a week. Getting ’behind the scenes’ where you can just see the top of the exhibit, requires stepping through a disinfectant. The care taken to keep from introducing any foreign material is painstaking.


- Two of the belugas, Gasper and Nico were scarred and dying, and rescued from Mexico City where they resided as a side-show, living underneath a roller coaster. Gasper, unfortunately, never fully recovered from his injuries, and ultimately succumbed, however Nico is doing fabulously, and exhibiting mating behavior with Maris, another beluga.


- The feed for all the animals is prepared for four hours the morning it’s dispensed, in a very special anticeptic commissary... over 1100 lbs. of restaurant quality food items. If there is a single abrasion or scratch in any of the items, it is discarded, to minimize the introduction of any bacteria.


- The husbandary/zoological lab is larger by a factor of 10 than the ratio of lab to aquarium in other aquariums. The GA scrub room is larger than the lab in most other facilities.


- Even the live coral is donated by authorities that have confiscated it from illegal coral harvesters. The GA has a huge program to propogate the coral, and do research which will hopefully address some of the plight of coral around the world: bleaching out, and dying due to climatic and intrusion issues.


- This isn’t prepared PR. I’m a volunteer at the GA. I’ve seen all the above.


- As for the dive program. The divers are kept to a small group, and are escorted by specially trained guides, all wearing new, and top of the line gear, that is kept sterile, and that the GA provides. Not only is the introduction of these divers in a 6,300,000 gallon tank hardly noticed by the animals, but those that do notice have simply swam up to take a curious look, and moved on.


There’s much more to talk about. However, I’d recommend if any of you have the opportunity, visit the GA, if you’re in the area. Take the "behind the scenes" tour, and get a glimpse of an amazing facility. I would challenge you to find an operation more dedicated to the care, preservation and continuance of aquatic life.







this guy is spot on. i echo everything he has said. I still dont like letting the "paying" public into the water.
#3933
seawolfdiving - 7/01/2008 12:18 PM
A bit of "Good" news from the Georga Aquarium:


sea turtle released into the wild.


follow the link.


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25458304/
#1914
DiveGirl55 - 7/01/2008 9:13 PM
Okay, so how about the OTHER 3, 017 (or however high the count) marine animals they have for human entertainment?!
#1914
DiveGirl55 - 7/01/2008 9:25 PM
I started a petition over 2 years ago to make the Georgia Aquarium RELEASE the whalesharks (the petition link is on this site too, you can search it, to sign) so it goes without saying that this ’diving with whalesharks’ is equally disturbing!


We, as divers have been certified and learned the responsible way to enjoy nature and it is ALWAYS a privilege (at least to me) to witness ANY marine life in its natural (and comfortable) habitat.


These people that PAY to do what we do for free are not only stupid and just got ripped off, but they are too lazy to get certified and enjoy nature the REAL way. NOT to mention, they are cheating themselves out of MANY more encounters in a beautiful unseen world.


I also see it as ANOTHER WAY for the Aquarium to make money, as you may or may not know they KILLED TWO WHALESHARKS last year, so I am sure this is just a way to try and recoup some of the money they lost in research and also the cost to buy two new ones (as if they are just broken toys, that you can replace, by buying new ones)!


The whole thing just makes me SICK and like I said in my petition: THE WHALESHARKS NEED TO BE RELEASED BACK INTO THE WILD. Keep only little fishies that are probably better off protected in the aquarium, but something so majestic has NO RIGHT to be kept for sheer entertainment value.


I was lucky enough to swim with TWO out in the open sea, and that was a gift alone from God, and a very rare chance. Why should these people get to see something so rare that most will likely later take for granted in an enviroment that practically serves it on a plate to them?


IT JUST ISN’T RIGHT.


THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO ’LEARN ABOUT THEM’ as the aquarium loves to use as an excuse to keep them.


STUDY THEM IN THE WILD!!! They might also act more normally in their OWN habitat!


What can we POSSIBLY learn from whalesharks in captivety EXCEPT that they HATE being in captivety?!?!
#113
GADiver - 7/03/2008 7:52 AM
Most of the detractors, such as yourself, of any aquarium, much less one as keenly devoted to the care and preservation of aquatic animals, like the GA, consistently use the same old inflammatory phrases, and just as consistently ignore the facts.


You use terms such as "human entertainment," and ignore the prospect of "public education and awareness." Each gallery/exhibit has volunteers who stand there for a minimum of four hour shifts for the sole purpose of educating the public to the habits of those particular animals, their ecological importance, and most importantly, their plight in the worldwide ecosystem.


If just ONE individual walks out of there with a new understanding and new way to interract with these creatures in the wild, much less the THOUSANDS that come through every day, then perhaps we’ll have one less plastic bag discarded into the ocean for an endangered loggerhead or leatherback turtle to swallow, thinking it’s a jellyfish, or perhaps we’ll have one less foreign visitor ordering up sharks fin soup when they return home, which will help quell the senseless slaughter of over 110,00,000 sharks/year. Maybe we’ll have one child enthralled enough by their visit to make marine biology or marine husbandry their ultimate vocation (which was the case for more than one of the GA’s resident biologists).


You said yourself, diving with the whale sharks was a gift from God, and I agree, that’s exactly what it is. And seeing these fantastic creatures changed you forever. I have no doubt YOU will never order up a plate of whale shark, or shark fin soup. How else can millions of other non-divers, OR even the majority of divers that haven’t had that experience, feel that same sense of urgency and empathy, if not to see that beauty and majesty for themselves?


You say (and I quote): "These people that PAY to do what we do for free are not only stupid and just got ripped off, but they are too lazy to get certified and enjoy nature the REAL way." Well, I’m impressed if you can dive "for free." For me, anyway, just reaching Rescue cert level, cost me over $1,000 in classes, about $3,000 more in gear, and just GETTING to a salt water dive site costs me additional hundreds for a flight or long road trip, not to mention the dive op, tips, hotels, etc. Glad YOU can do it for free. For the "stupid, ripped off" public, it costs $26 for an adult, and $19.50 for a child. Perhaps those that are "too lazy to get certified" don’t have the privilege you and I have of the resources, time, money, or physical ability to make it happen.


You also say: "I also see it as ANOTHER WAY for the Aquarium to make money." Well, perhaps you’re not aware that the Georgia Aquarium is 100% NON-PROFIT? No one "makes money." 100% goes back into running the GA, doing the research, conducting their "4-R" philosophy: Rescue, Relocate, Rehabilitate, Research.


The GA has the only project where an aquarium research lab is working with a Veterinarian school as an integrated teaching effort. http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/conservation/


Finally, you say: "Why should these people get to see something so rare that most will likely later take for granted in an enviroment that practically serves it on a plate to them?"


Well... all I can say is... HUH?
#14518
tardmaster - 7/03/2008 2:04 PM
To Gadiver: touche ’!!!!!!! My wife and I are definitely going diving with you and yours. you are on the same wave length as we are. I’ve had no less than 3 instructors come to our dive club, at our shop, and educate our divers on shark conservation, turtle conservation, eating propper seafood that is not endangered, ocean conservation and reef conservation. They have done this totally on their dime. My 8 year old daughter is claiming to be one of those future marine biologists and when she saw the shark finning video, which is shown to all the volunteers who take the shark conservation class, she was so mad. consider her educated. I totally applaud everything the aquarium doesand the way they do it, with the exception of letting the public swim with these creatures. as a dive master at my shop i have spent a ton of money on classes and gear. a lot of my trips are paid for by the shop but by no means can i swim in the wild with any shark much less a whale shark. I’m not saying....I’m just saying.
#7846
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sharkdiver73 - 7/03/2008 2:34 PM
I would agree with this. We work with the guys at the Long Beach AQ and I have never met more dedicated and protocol rich staff and animal care takers. The dedication is there, I am sure the Georgia AQ is not run by Yahoo’s.

Our point was the marketing side. The definition of an Aquarium is being re-defined yearly it seems with the addition of animal encounters that go way beyond the classic touch pool.

Funny, we got word last week that a 200 acre fully interactive aquarium/dive site "somewhere in the middle of the US" was going to break ground in 6 months. Right now the running total for the place being thrown around is 500 million dollars.

Hold on to your hats, I have a feeling this site is going to blow a lot of people away and change the way divers think of diving.
#113
GADiver - 7/04/2008 10:18 PM
Just let me know when you want to dive!


I have an 8 yr. old daughter, as well... (who wants to be a marine biologist and work with dolphins... think we have a matched pair here?)


P.S. Just heard back from Mauritius, and moving ahead with the volunteer dive op. Are they really going to make me do the 400 yard swim in 12 minutes?
#14518
tardmaster - 7/05/2008 10:50 PM
Sorry for hijacking the blog, but to answer your question, gadiver.....yes. we’ll have to do that and a hand full of other things. The swim/snorkle test are prety close to what PADI requires for divemaster.