[Coral-List] Whale sharks

Sarah Frias-Torres sfrias_torres at hotmail.com
Tue Dec 1 20:10:37 UTC 2020

the narrative at the Georgia Aquarium is that their captive whale sharks were "rescued" from the coastal seas of Taiwan.  In some versions of the story, they say the sharks were going to the fish market and these were surplus sharks that they secured for the exhibit: ..." Working with the Taiwanese government and local fisherman, Georgia Aquarium obtained the required permits and created the safest and most secure method for the acquisition and transport of the animals from Taiwan to Atlanta, GA."

Whale sharks are listed under CITES Appendix II.
NOAA is responsible for many marine species that are listed under CITES
For CITES species listed also under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, NOAA supports the
Fish and Wildlife Service by providing guidance and scientific expertise, because FWS is the agency designated to carry out CITES provisions.
CITES Appendix II includes species that are not currently threatened with extinction but may become so without trade controls.
Whale sharks are also listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List but are not listed in the US Endangered Species list.

Since the Georgia Aquarium whale sharks were imported from Taiwan, then we can assume that any import permits, if needed, were processed through NOAA.
Here is a summary of the connection between CITES and NOAA

NOAA has regulations on the public display of marine mammals as per provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

But, to my knowledge, NOAA does not have equivalent regulations for the public display of whale sharks. Maybe others in Coral-List have more information specifically on NOAA shark display regulations.

The question here is how we can justify the captivity of highly migratory species, such as whale sharks.

The narrative of public zoos and aquariums is that the wild animals they keep in captivity are ambassadors for the species living in the wild, and that public display motivates people to care for and conserve wildlife.

I have yet to see the connection between captive wildlife (marine or terrestrial) and people caring for wildlife.

If that argument was true, then we would have oceans full of wildlife, with no pollution, no overfishing, and no accidental killing of dolphins and other charismatic megafauna (known as fisheries bycatch).

It's interesting that the movement to save the great whales from extinction started with the 1970 album release of
"Songs of the Humpback Whale" produced by bio-acoustician Dr. Roger Payne, using the first underwater sound recordings for this species. The whale songs energized people to take action. And not one single baleen whale was kept in a fish tank for public display to motivate people to conserve the whales.


Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D.
Twitter: @GrouperDoc
Science Blog: https://grouperluna.com/
Art Blog: https://oceanbestiary.com/

From: Coral-List <coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> on behalf of Steve via Coral-List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Sent: Monday, November 30, 2020 10:56 AM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Subject: [Coral-List] Whale sharks

I realize this is a bit off-topic for this list, but in case you hadn’t heard, a third whale shark has died at the Georgia Aquarium. Of the original four, only one remains swimming in tight and shallow quarters with two whale sharks that serve as replacements for two previous casualties. Leading experts on this species have expressed opposition to whale shark captivity, but still the show goes on. I don’t know exactly what role, if any, NOAA plays in sanctioning/licensing these exhibits, but isn’t it time for this to change?



Steve Mussman

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