Our first day in Valencia we decided to visit the aquarium. It had great reviews, rated as one of the best in Europe. But the main draw card was that Ajay had been teaching Kenzo and Lui about all the different whales, including the beluga whale, and Ajay had read that the Oceanogràfic had beluga whales. So we hopped on a bus that took us all the way to the other end of the old river, and hopped off at the Centre of Arts and Sciences.
Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències is the Spanish name for the centre of Arts and Sciences where there is a music hall, a science museum, an art hall and the aquarium.The layout is spacious and the design is modern. The main iconic building is surrounded by beautiful designs that look like a wave. When the sun hits the shallow pools surrounding the building, the sunlight reflects blue shimmering sparkles onto the white painted surfaces, creating the effect of sunlight shimmering on the sea.
The other buildings are artistic masterpieces too. One is shaped like half an eye with massive pools on either side that have a glass base, creating a reflection of the other half of the eye. It’s truely a marvel and worth spending time wondering around. But our aim was to see the aquarium before our movie so we were on a tight timeline of only two hours.
We started with jellyfish and sharks because Kenzo is fascinated with jellyfish. Our aim was to find the beluga whales but we realised the Oceanogràfic is huge so it wasn’t going to be an easy task. There were way too many interesting things to distract us along the way. We saw lots of species of sharks and walked through the long shark tunnel where the sharks swim above you and on either side of you. We came to the jelly fish section which had all sorts of fascinating jellyfish. I can’t name any of them but for Kenzo and Lui they loved seeing brown, blue, white, black, red, pink, yellow and purple jellyfish.
The tropical fish section was beautiful. It depcited the Mediterranean Sea coral and sea life. So vibrant and colourful. They also had an Indo-Pacific tropical aquarium. The fish were big and small. The room had plenty of seating which makes it easy to sit down and enjoy the two floor to ceiling aquariums in the large hall while the kids wonder around. Giselle managed to spot a giant yellow eel hiding near a rock.
There were a lot of tortoises in a pen. Kenzo and Lui stood for ages looking at them even though they hardly moved. They were huge.
We finally arrived at the beluga whale enclosure. It took Lui and I by surprise. We didn’t realise we had entered the building where the whales are kept. We were by a massive glass pool and suddenly a beluga whale was coming up to us and seemed to be interacting with the children standing there. It was awesome. It was little and seemed quite young and playful, swimming round in circles, touching the glass with it’s belly or it’s side. Sometimes it would simply come up to the window and look at us for ten seconds or so, before swimming away.
I took Lui around the corner to see the tank from the other side. It was a massive pool but it was stark. It looked horrific, like a prison cell. It was painted white and in some places you could see rust leaking through the paint. There was a bigger beluga in there too, possibly the child’s mum or some close family member because they were very affectionate. Probably the worst part was that one of the belugas, in another tank, was on the surface of the water facing a wall and not moving at all, just breathing, but not moving. This is typically called “logging” and is common in dolphins and whales that are in captivity.
As entertaining as it can be to see these creatures live, I don’t believe we should have them in captivity. Our whole family, except Lui who’s only two years old, found it sad that one of the beluga’s looked so depressed. And that made the tragedy of captivity very real. These creatures live in the Arctic zone and travel hundreds of kilometres in a day. They usually have a minimum of 20 belugas in their family group. The excuse all aquariums give is so that they can study these creatures properly, but that’s not true. You cannot study the natural behaviour of a human when it is locked in a room for years with no access to natural sunlight or nature or family and friends. It was awful to see this. It clearly is a big money making scheme and not a scientific reason for keeping these creatures in captivity.
We moved on to the dolphin pools, eager to show Kenzo and Lui the dolphins. Carmelo and Giselle have been fortunate to see dolphins swimming at Tawharanui a few summers ago when Kenzo was a baby. Carmelo ran into the water and had one of the dolphins brush up against him. And being in New Zealand there are plenty of other opportunities when we get to see them play near the shores.
We had seen this a dolphin enclosure in Mexico too and at that time it had made me sick to my stomach. But to see it again, compelled me to write about it. At first I saw three dolphins and I thought, “Wow! Such a massive pool for only three dolphins. At least that’s some consolation”. But it’s really not when you find out the conditions of how dolphins commit suicide if they are in captivity too long.
Anyway, a few minutes later I realised there were three dolphins in each pool and there were six pools. None of the dolphins were able to move from one pool to the other freely. Yet if the gates were opened they all could swim around easily and probably socialise too. Here’s what I’ve learnt about having these dolphins and whales in captivity.
The chlorine give them skin irritations and burns their eyes causing permanent eye damage. The constant exposure to the sun because they are in clear waters with no shade, gives them sunburn. Making them perform tricks for fish is servitude. The fish are dead which is not healthy for them. If a dolphin refuses to eat, usually because it is starving itself, it will be force fed with a tube in it’s stomach. A dolphin show requires lots of dolphins because once the dolphin has finished eating, they will stop performing. They are kept hungry enough so that they will comply with what the trainer wants them to do. Whales and dolphins go crazy in confined spaces and many are observed to smash their heads into the walls or beach themselves if there is a place to do so. Many dolphins and whales commit suicide if they are in captivity too long. Because it is a conscious effort to take a breath, they choose to stop breathing.
Yes, it’s cute seeing penguins. But again, is it worth holding these creatures in captivity when they are used to diving deep into the ocean, sometimes up to 200 metres, when all they have is a pathetically shallow pool and little piece of land filled with plastic and metal. And again, no natural sunlight because they need to be in a freezer environment. Natural sunlight would cause too much heat meaning the cost would be too high to keep the freezer cool.
I suppose it depends if you are comfortable going to these aquariums or not. In the UK, people stopped buying tickets to dolphin shows and now they do not have have any dolphins in captivity. It’s about education. Educating everyone not to buy tickets to these sorts of places.
Be careful who you send money to with regards to organisations claiming they help to free whales or dolphins. Many of these organisations pocket the money because they do not want to give up their precious money-making commodity. Instead they use the money to move the creature to a bigger tank. What would actually benefit is if the whale or dolphin was moved to a natural lagoon in the see or the ocean and simply fence it off. This way at least they are experiencing tides, currents, sunlight, shade, hunting fish, and swimming in a bigger space.
Costa Rica Rica banned animals in circuses in the early 2000’s and they shut their zoos over five years ago. The only enclosures now are for animals that are in rehabilitation or rescued animals that were illegally kept as pets. In New Zealand, we have not banned animals in circuses and fortunately our Auckland zoo is trying to create more humane living conditions for animals. But is it a good idea to have zoos?
Since 1822 England have been creating laws agains cruel and improper treatment of animals, including animals we eat or are used for labour. Some people have been taking action regarding the ethics of animal treatment nearly two hundred years ago. And fortunately in New Zealand we have an Animal Welfare Act to protect animals in zoos, on farms or in our homes from being mistreated. But that doesn’t mean I like the lion enclosure at the Auckland Zoo or the penguin enclosures at Kelly Tarlton’s. Both of these look over crowded and far too small to cater to the “normal habits of behaviour” that these creatures should usually display. I’m surprised an animal right’s activist hasn’t been making noise about these enclosures.
So what would I do? Well, as with all aspects of being human, it’s complicated for me. I love taking my kids to the zoo and being able to see these animals up close. They love the experience. Seeing a penguin live or a lion allows them to really notice the texture of the fur or the slipperiness of the coat. But now with YouTube being able to show my kids what these animals live like in the wild, I know we could study it online.
I loved the Oceanogràfic in Valencia. It is so well laid out and they have a variety of creatures, most have great enclosures. I also know they have a great conservation project where they sponsor beach cleanups and rescues of any marine life that become entangled in nets on their coasts or that wash up on their shores.
But would I go there again, knowing what I know now? No. Simply because I saw how depressed these dolphins and beluga whales are in their enclosures. It hurts to think about how we are treating these creatures who are not able to speak up for themselves.
Each person is different, and perhaps for the experience of being able to see how enormous a beluga whale is, it’s worth going so that you can find out for yourself.