So you want to go the aquarium?
If you remember from my previous post Getting Kids to Love the Ocean, going to aquariums is a great way to get kids of all ages engaged with the oceans. Well we did just that on a recent day off and it was an amazing time! We are fortunate to live in an area with a spectacular local aquarium that is fully involved in educating the community about the wonders of the oceans. Now I'm not naming names as to which aquarium but, I live in Sarasota so i'll let you do the Google search on that one.
On our adventure day we learned about all different kinds of sea creatures, local fisheries, we saw some truly creative up-cycled art bringing awareness to the important issue of plastic debris, we learned about invasive species and their role in our environment, we learned about local sea turtle populations, shark populations and even saw three spunky and agile otters (super cute little guys but, let's face it, they can be vicious hell beasts when prompted). Tons of things to do AND for the first time in her life, my daughter actually sat and LOOKED at the exhibits as opposed to using the aquarium as a toddler speedway. Oh and the milkshakes! Our aquarium has the BEST milkshakes!
Needless to say we had a blast and a great mommy/daughter day.
Now that I've peaked your interest about aquariums, let's talk a little about how to find a suitable aquarium for you to visit. Because not all aquariums are created equal, after all. Unfortunately, some aquariums are more "for profit" than "for education" and this can result in less than desirable treatment and acquisition of exhibits. So allow me to guide you to finding the perfect aquarium to visit.
BEHOLD! The Dive Momma's guide to finding the perfect aquarium.
1) Non Profit: Is the aquarium a not for profit organization? It's a huge red flag if an organization such as a zoo or aquarium is a for profit facility. IMHO it's morally incomprehensible to make a buck off of the exhibition of an animal. After all, these are organisms that are found in nature and an aquarium is not nature. Even though most quality facilities try to emulate natural environments. To make a profit off of animals taken from their natural environment or bred outside of their natural environment is akin to poaching. Harsh but, deserving words I know.
2) Quality Care: Is the aquarium in question providing quality care of their exhibit animals. The care, cultivation, and breeding of crops and animals is termed husbandry. There's a little Word of the Day for ya. Good husbandry practices include adequate upkeep of habitats, adequate nutrition and human breeding practices. So, if you're visiting an aquarium and the exhibits are falling apart and the animals look sickly, it's a good bet that they aren't practicing the best husbandry. If that's the case, It's probably best to find a more worthy institution to give your money to.
If you have any doubts if an institution meets quality standards, check out the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They are a non profit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. If you're traveling to an area and want to find a place to visit, check out their website and see if there's a recommendation for the area you are traveling to.
3) Marine Mammal Shows: Controversy Alert! Ok this topic always gets a rise and no doubt I will get one here. I'm am not at all a proponent of dolphin/whale training and shows. Marine mammals are not here for our entertainment people! Seeing Flipper do tricks is great and all but, come on now, training dolphins/whales is yet another way for us Homo sapiens to demonstrate that we are masters of the universe and exert power over the animal kingdom IMO. It's disrespectful and domineering and serves no real purpose other than to make $$$.
Now before you start the verbal lynching allow me to clarify that I am NOT against having dolphins/whales that have been or are being rehabilitated for educational purposes. In fact, I know of many an institution that create "exhibits" of marine mammals that have been deemed "non-releasable" and their circumstances are used for educating the community. These are not animals removed from the wild for the sole purpose of entertainment. They are generally the victim of circumstance and their situation is being used to create awareness.
I grew up watching dolphin shows at the aquarium so I know first hand how awesome they can be. Had I known then what I know now, I don't think I would have attended the shows. Don't beat yourself up too much if you've been to one. We've all been there.
4) Community involvement: Does the aquarium in question involve or give back to community efforts? Personally, I think that every institution should be giving back to the community in some way. But, when it comes to zoos and aquariums, involving the community is another way to continue educating and also giving opportunities for hands-on involvement for people that don't always have the fancy degree but, do have the desire to be involved. Some of the best institutions I know are volunteer operated and let me tell you, those volunteers are some of the most dedicated and passionate advocates for our oceans and local issues. I've found that when people volunteer their time, they are able to give a full focus and passion to the issues at hand more so than paid employees. Sad but, true.
School programs are some of the best ways to get kids involved in the oceans and one of the best ways for organizations to give back to their communities. After all, it's all about creating future ocean advocates :) You can be darned sure that my daughter will be participating in a day camp of some sort when she's old enough. Kids learn while having fun and the ocean benefits from new advocates. Win, win.
5) Ocean Issues: Here are the things I want to hear about when I visit an aquarium...what issues are we seeing regarding our oceans (plastic debris, over fishing, pollution, climate change, etc) and what can I do to help? The primary purpose of an aquarium should be educating the public about our oceans. A big part of this involves issues and problems. The silver lining of that is that it's also a way to put power into the hands of everyone and give solutions to these problems. It's downright hopeful.
6) Milkshakes: There should always be milkshakes available at aquariums.
Ok just kidding. But, wouldn't it be nice if there were?
I hope this helps you when it comes to deciding what aquarium to visit. Please keep in mind that all of this is based on my opinions. Yours may be different in some aspect. I would like to think that we are all working together for the good of our oceans and I'm going to go to sleep each night believing that. While we may have differing opinions on some aspects, we are doing the best we can to create and maintain healthy oceans.
Now go out there and get kids loving the ocean!