I love whale sharks. There’s something very uplifting about such an enormous animal being so gentle. But I think it’s pretty clear that whale sharks don’t belong in aquariums:
A young whale shark that sank to the bottom of its tank at the Georgia Aquarium this year and died had been forcibly fed for months, a practice that may have punctured its stomach and caused an infection that led to its death, scientists said Wednesday.
The whale shark was fed with a tube after it seemed to lose its appetite over a period of months last year, said Robert Hueter, director of the center for shark research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., who participated in the examination of the shark’s body. Dr. Hueter said it was possible the shark’s stomach had been punctured by the feeding tube.
When we have to force feed our enclosed animals, something has gone very wrong. But the Atlanta aquarium isn’t the first place to struggle with keeping whale sharks alive in captivity.
A study of 16 whale sharks kept at the Okinawa Expo Aquarium from 1980 to 1998 found they survived, on average, 502 days in captivity.
“We don’t know enough about whale sharks to say we can keep them alive for long periods of time in a captive environment,” said Jason A. Holmberg, a scientist with the Earthwatch Institute who is studying whale sharks in the Ningaloo Reef in Australia. “The expectation is that if you put a whale shark in an aquarium, it’s a death sentence.”
I think zoos and aquariums should have to meet some basic threshold of knowledge before they are allowed to keep certain species. If you don’t know how to take care of an animal, then you can’t take of it. I’m afraid it’s that simple. We should study whale sharks in the wild before we try to keep them in a big tank.