AZA Annual Conference - Communicating Wildlife Conservation

Basically this session is about making a media story out of a zoo or aquarium's conservation efforts. I'm making a story out of making a story.

Challenging Media Myths About White Sharks
Speaker: Karen Jeffries, Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium examined the possibility of exhibiting a great white shark in an effort to change perceptions of an animal most commonly associated with the movie Jaws. The husbandry challenges were formidable. Of the 37 previous attempts to exhibit a great white, all had died quickly, the oldest living only 16 days.

The PR challenges were also formidable. Not the least of which, was the need for a robust "crisis communications" plan, in the event that the shark died, or a diver got nipped while cleaning. They also took a proactive PR approach within the aquarium, stationing a speaker directly in front of the exhibit at all times. This speaker spoke to both the behavior and biology of great whites as well as the purpose of exhibiting one: increasing awareness of their plight. Eventually, Peter Benchley even visited as a guest of the Aquarium and said he regretted the damage Jaws had done to the public perception of these incredible animals.

The Monterey Bay PR folks also made an effort to "rebrand" the "great white shark" simply as a "white shark."

The Aquarium finally ran into problems when the white shark began bit a soupfin shark and then, a few days later, killed another soupfin shark (what a delicious name! who can blame him?). This led to public pressure to release the shark, which eventually abated. However, the shark grew rapidly, which increased the challenges of handling the animal as well as its danger to other animals in the tank. Due to these factors, they finally decided to release the shark.

Successfully exhibiting the shark resulted in a measured increase in conservation awareness amongst aquarium visitors, major national media coverage, increased visitorship, and a multi-million dollar commitment from the board of directors for white shark conservation.

MBA White Shark

How to Find Hidden Stories in Your Zoo/Aquarium
Speaker: Kelly Lessard, Minnesota Zoo

A newborn sea turtle was taken from a Florida beach by a Minnesota resident who brought it back as a gift for his girlfriend. The girlfriend turned the sea turtle over to the Minnesota Zoo which used it as an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of not taking animals from the wild. After one year at the Minnesota Zoo, they returned the now 7lb sea turtle to Florida. By alerting Sun Country airlines to this special passenger, they were able to get a free first class ticket for turtle and the United Fish and Wildlife Service animal handler in whose lap the critter was required to ride. Sun Country actually invited local camera crews into the plane to film the turtle in its first class accommodations. Its landing and unloading was also covered by Florida news who turned it into a sort of reverse Elian Gonzales type story.

How to "Field Produce" Stories
Speaker: Holly Braithwaite, Utah's Hogle Zoo

Holly is talking about how the news cycle has gotten incredibly short, how right she is.

I hope she forgives me for not covering her presentation in more detail, but it is more about PR than it is about specific stories from the Hogle Zoo, so I'm gonna hold off.

The Good, the Bad, and the Fuzzy - Spider City Comes Alive!
Speakers: Jason Jacobs and Kirsten Perez, Los Angeles Zoo

Leveraging their proximity to Hollywood and the coincidental launch of the movie Spider Man 3, they decided to launch Spider City Comes Alive! with a 3D comic book theme that would tap into enthusiasm for the movie without getting them sued. Big idea was to demonstrate that spiders were both heroes and villains. They managed to get Stephen Kutcher (bug wrangler to the stars, previously featured on Zooillogix) to come in and present for the opening. They even created a Spider City comic book.

Spider City Ad

More like this

Wikipedia notes that the soupfin shark, or school shark as they call it, is "excellent for human consumption".

Sorry I missed meeting you while you were there. I was in the session (briefly) then ducked into another presentation.

Ken Peterson
Monterey Bay Aquarium