Monday, March 21, 2011

Aquariums and Holding Tanks

Along with aquaculture, aquariums notoriously lie along beaches. Reports of damage to aquariums has been almost nil in the press, but JAZA, the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums, has provided some detail.

The aquarium that has been hit the hardest has been the Fukushima Kaiyo Kagaku-kan or “Aquamarine Fukushima” in Iwaki city. People living in the area reported watching the tsunami waves roll over the building. The most widely reported story (though a mere pebble in the bucket compared with stories about humans) is of two seal lions, 15-year old Ichiro and his one-year old female sidekick Hama, both of whom have been moved by truck to new facilities. Their emergency evacuation was to Numazu city’s aquarium “Izu-Mito Sea Paradise” in Shizuoka prefecture. Photos show Ichiro sitting up pertly (for a 500-kilo giant) in a white iron cage.

Stories of the death of smaller creatures in the aquarium are hard to come by. This is because like the sudden appearance of an ocean-going bearded seal in the freshwater Tama River in Tokyo in 2002 who brought thousands of humans to the river shores, brought long-term hikikomori or “shut-ins” out of their homes and rooms, inspired on-line art and poems dedicated to Tama the seal, and started an environmental awareness campaign in the ward, large ocean mammals are a great source of fascination for humans. The mammals in Aquamarine Fukushima were quickly moved out, but fish and invertebrates won’t survive. Hundreds of fish species will soon or have already died because it has been impossible to maintain the temperatures needed for their survival without electricity. There were emergency generators in place should the electricity go out, but there was no fuel for them after the tsunami and no fuel was later provided. Fish were exposed to colder temperatures and quickly weakened. Refrigerators had no power so the feed in them went bad. In total there were at Aquamarine Fukushima 450 species of fish numbering 44,000; 240 vertebrates numbering 156,000; 500 types of plants numbering 20,000; 18 mammals, 27 birds, and bugs. 220,000 fish, invertebrates, and plants will die. One specialist in the prefecture said that “with gas and oil resources scarce, while it is sad, human life is the most important” (Mainichi Shinbun, March 17). Those to be moved to new environs in Chiba prefecture’s Kamogawa Seaworld and Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo are 3 stellar sea lions, 2 seals, 2 walruses, two pelicans, 5 gulls, and one otter. In Matsushima’s Marinpia park, 2 beavers have died.

Then there were the dolphins about to be shipped to new “sea worlds” from Taichi Japan who have disappeared. Taichi Japan in Wakayama prefecture, known globally for its dolphin harvesting through the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, lost 13 dolphins when the quake caused damage to the tanks holding them. Fishermen had planned on selling these dolphins to various sea zoos and will see monetary losses of 14,900,000 yen. Marine entertainment centers, especially in the western world, use language for their facilities that emphasizes how such centers “save” wildlife and “educate” citizenry through their facilities but there is no denying the big money that can be made from the export of live dolphins by fishermen and the global sea world entertainment industry.

Taiji began expanding its business in dolphin export relatively recently. It created tanks for dolphins so that sea world buyers can pick dolphins for sea zoos. Bottlenose dolphins are also held in sea pens at the outer edge of the harbor to be trained and prepared for shipment reportedly to places like US, Holland, Hong Kong and Israel. Other export markets include Korea, China, Mexico, Tahiti, Taiwan, and Thailand. The covert nature of these sales makes them hard to track. Dolphin harvesting in Japan gets falsely touted as national traditional culture or as a fishing practice. In its current form, it is not. The biggest losses to the Taiji fisherman is from selling live, rather than processed, dolphin.

The captivity of dolphins and other mammals is a worldwide billion-dollar industry. Not counting the Russian and American military dolphins, there are over a thousand captive dolphins scattered around the world. They can be found in amusement parks, dolphin-swim programs, zoos, roadside shows, and even shopping centers and discotheques.

And the thousands of fish that will die as a result of no electricity or back-up generators? They're yet more victims of the tsunami. But the cruel irony here is the image of saltwater fishes being killed by a wave of salt water. Such is the unnaturalness of their captivity.

We're all in this together.