The planet is our home; we need to be more responsible. Here's what I do.
small hammerhead shark in aquarium tunnel tank
Under the real sea it’s calm and quiet. As you might expect. Humans are guests in that domain.
It’s not entirely quiet though.
There are sounds. The sound of sand particles falling from the mouths of fishes, as they collect morsels from the bottom. The sand sprinkling down creates a strange falling sound.
It’s not like rain or leaf fall, perhaps the resonance in water makes this sound unique.
The peace is also shattered by the visitors. They bring with them gurgling bubbles, the chime of metal on metal and the disturbing vibrations of their exhalations.
This is no yoga class.
There is clanging of the anchor chain on their vessel above. Hissing, splashing and gurgling.
But the absence of the noises of everyday above-water-life does create a sort of peace on human terms.
I wonder whether fish curse these new neighbours and wait patiently for their departure. Wondering what the hell these ridiculous creatures are?
Badly designed, ungainly, un-streamlined, bobbing about with broad movements and exploding farts of released air bubbles.
I’ve seen the fish reappear on reefs and wrecks as the noisiest divers ascend to surface. Reminiscent of those cow cartoons watching the tourists disappear.
NOUN (plural aquaria /-rɪə/ or aquariums)
1A transparent tank of water in which live fish and other water creatures and plants are kept.
1.1A building containing tanks of live fish of different species.
mid 19th century: from Latin, neuter of aquarius ‘of water’, on the pattern of vivarium.
Yet what of the inmates of these man made glass coffins?
Underwater inside in the dark, the gloom replicates the seas.
But they miss the abandoned plastic bags, man’s rubbish strewn across the sands, choking the unsuspecting victim.
Aquaria are also idyllic, false representations of well stocked seas that are far harder to find in real life.
No abandoned fishing nets here, no jagged hooks to tear innocent mouths, no harsh knives to rip fins and flukes for expensive soup.
This isn’t what the sea is really like. It’s a placebo to help people ignore the ocean plight.
Do the fishes peer back at us in wonder? Who is the visitor, who is observed by whom?
Do the aquatic residents find us curious and bizarre?
What strikes me in every aquarium I visit is the noise. There is no peace. There is hubbub and cursory attention.
Look darling, an octopus!” that flinches at your careless flash, unknown underwater.
The octopus withdraws deeper into a clichéd pottery urn, disdainfully hiding. An intelligent creature with abilities far beyond ours for camouflage and hunting yet stuffed inside that urn.
Most people are passing through. They have another agenda. A time frame. A plane to catch. A list of unusual creatures to tick off.
Aquariums bring me pain.
Though I still visit.
Ideally sitting in the dark motionless.
Sadly gazing at creatures I’d prefer to free. Enduring the pain as a reminder of my good fortune. I’ve hung motionless face to face with sea turtles, mantas open mouthed and dolphins at play.
A reminder to me to respect my planet and continue to do my best.
I know those animals are better off than their captive peers. But without these prisoners what chance for the visitors to encounter such bizarre life forms in years to come when all are extinct?
I find aquaria like torture chambers. Pelagic ballerinas metaphorically pacing inside the glass. Round and round they swim, surrounded by artificial reef structures and fake corals. At the mercy of the temperature adjustments, the pumps and filters that sustain their artificial eco systems but that can be so fragile that a power cut will terminate all within.
Their obsessive compulsive repetitive behaviours so obviously stress related.
Pelagic means neither at the bottom nor the top of the sea neither close to the bottom nor near the shore. Fish so comfortable in that space that people find so off putting. No landmarks, no familiar features, nothing but blue.
A fish like a bat fish is in her element when there’s nothing there but blue. She doesn’t need an anchor line or boat. But in the aquarium she’s surrounded in the equivalent of a matchbox. When people are incarcerated there’s no comparison to the cage of this animal.
The journey of a turtle whose life began in Costa Rica can follow the length of the South America continent.
What human normally travels that sort of distance unaided?
We know so little about ocean going species. Whale sharks travel between continents easily always on the go.
When I see a baby hammerhead in a tank it’s not awe I feel, but despair. What’s her time frame, her sentence? How can this juvenile’s future be anything but bleak?
It cannot stay in this pool until adulthood it’s going to grow too large. What will happen to it when it’s too big? Burgers in the canteen perhaps or risky transportation to another facility?
The intensely sophisticated navigation system in its unusual shaped head completely obsolete in here.
Worse still what happens when the only hammerhead sharks left on earth are inmates?
I guess I’d like to see people required to spend time here in silent enduring contemplation. Aquaria visits should be a punishment schedule for those who litter, who pollute, who destroy, who develop, who demolish.
Aquaria should be visited like memorials to nature genocide. Bleak reminders of the horrors that man has inflicted on the earth.
Serious human offenders could perhaps be introduced to that shark tank, or meet the piranhas up close and personal with small cuts on their fingers. As fish stocks are depleted perhaps the aquaria populations could be sustained on a different type of fish food.
Man burger anyone?
a blog by a multilingual expat-since-birth, linguist, researcher, mum of three, living in the Netherlands and writing about bilingualism, multiculturalism, parenting abroad, international life...