Horchatas earthy taste remains in my mouth as I pass through the doors of the aquarium. I had just sipped the milky drink made from tiger-nut for the first time. I bought it from a vendor outside of the property making capital off of cramped water cages entrapping animals much too big for the distance between walls, containing them in an unnatural habitat.
I could have phrased the previous statement very differently: I had just sipped the milky drink made from tiger-nut for the first time. I bought it from a vendor outside of an educational experience that has the potential to spark children’s interest in the future and the diversity of the many environments that make up the world around us.
I chose to start my blog post about Valencia in this manner to acknowledge the controversial side of aquariums. Going to the aquarium was one part of our port program. Students recognized both sides of this issue from the first introduction of the idea. After we were told of our port program many people clapped but others chimed in with comments such as “Guys, remember that animals are not in cages naturally”. This lead to many smaller conversations between individuals in the time surrounding the port program and even an impromptu discussion in English 11 days later. No matter which way an individual viewed the ethics of aquariums, the experience provided an educational experience to all.
Returning to my experience, after I had passed through the doors of the aquarium I immediately went to the map to find the location of the sharks and jellyfish. I hoped to see the other animals on the way but these are the two that captivate my interest the most. After finding each location among the many different environments, a group of us started towards the jellyfish tanks. The tanks were filled with many different types of jellyfish; we saw long, flowing, jellyfish radiating elegance to stout, grey, mushrooms, bouncing, and puttering about.
Nearing the end of the exhibit we saw a jellyfish nursery filled with what appeared to be thumbnail sized white laced jelly. They looked harmless and endearing now but, in a few years, they would be filling the larger tanks we had seen our own reflection in, when we looked at them previously in awe.
We then meandered through the aquarium exterior exhibits, passing penguins, finding fish, revering rays, seeking sharks. When we got through the line to see these sea creatures, down the stairs, and passed the bottleneck of other eager viewers, there they were. Swimming above me in the walk-through tank were sharks. This angle provided me a view of their jaws lined with teeth but at the same time I could see the calmness in their seamless movements.
I believe that where a person finds beauty in an animal is directly related to the attributes they value or hope to muster in themselves; the fun-loving spirit of a golden retriever or smoothness of a cheetah's agile motions. I seek the control of a shark, having power and knowing when to use it balanced with the elegance and peace of a jellyfish floating with the current.
Continuing this idea of balance is the debate of putting animals in aquariums with both education and the negative realities of captivity in mind. I don’t often see shark or jellyfish in the wild so I am grateful for this opportunity that going to this aquarium provided for me. At the same time, I am also appreciative for the dialogue our port program opened in regards to the morals surrounding zoos’ and aquariums’.
Written by Class Afloat student, Felicity B.