The Royalmount Aquarium:
an already dated facility
People worldwide are walking away from aquariums and zoological gardens
By Georges Dupras
April 20, 2023
Some will always take full advantage of a situation, regardless of the long-term consequences of their actions. While environmental impact is of little importance to some, it is cause for great distress among others.
The objective of the Royalmount Project was to have the Town of Mount Royal re-zone a parcel of land for commercial use. Royalmount’s goal was to build a large all-encompassing environmentally coherent living space that would include an aquarium. Among their arguments for the inclusion of an aquarium were education, rehabilitation, and conservation. The aquarium, we were told, would encourage people to protect the natural environment.
One of the oddities, if not a blatant contradiction in this reasoning, is that other developers in Montreal have already begun the systematic destruction of the Monarch Butterfly fields, just west of the Montreal airport. The Monarch Butterfly is a species at risk.
Aquariums and zoos depict wildlife in unnatural environments suffering the effects of enclosures that fail to meet their basic needs.
Fall in popularity
There are several good reasons why people around the world are walking away from aquariums and zoological gardens. Aquariums and zoos depict wildlife in unnatural environments suffering the effects of enclosures that fail to meet their basic needs. Some include social animals taken from their families. In other cases, a condition known as zoo psychosis, or the development of aberrant behaviour, occurs.
This condition can manifest itself through repetitive motions and can progress to acts of self-mutilation. To some, it’s a silent admission of defeat. These are but two reasons I question the existence of these dated facilities. Are we inventing an artificial world because we can’t stop destroying the natural world due to our greed and inefficiency?
Rescue and rehabilitation
To be effective, designated rescue and rehabilitation centres should be within a serviceable distance from the patients’ habitat, not a thousand miles away. As for breeding programs, aquariums are rarely used for such purposes, and fish are overwhelmingly sourced from the wild. These realities beg the question – do we really need aquariums, or should we invest in technology demonstrating the problems with today’s fishing techniques?
What is the point in saving the Saint-Laurence population of belugas when, if we are successful, we merely return them to the chemical waste dump we saved them from in the offset? If we do not return them, will we begin trading them as captive specimens?
As with the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), these designations indicate failure*. It means that Mankind has gone too far in destroying habitats and reducing animal and plant numbers beyond recovery. Other than very specific applications, aquariums are not recommended.
‘Present-day technologies, such as IMAX presentations, Animal Planet and National Geographic presentations, and live satellite relays, far surpass anything a zoo or aquarium offers.’
Undoubtedly, there is some educational value in everything we do – even visiting a zoo. There is also little doubt that some experiences are far better than others. Present-day technologies, such as IMAX presentations, Animal Planet and National Geographic presentations, and live satellite relays, far surpass anything a zoo or aquarium offers. Students are guided through different worlds by subject specialists who assist in focusing the youngsters’ attention on wildlife, living, and dealing within their own environment.
Spell aquarium, spell zoo: F-A-I-L-U-R-E
No matter how well they are designed, they represent failure.
Our obsession with unnatural lifestyles is driven home right here in Montreal. Our governments are willing to destroy the Monarch butterfly fields. Parents complain that children spend too much time immersed in a techno world far from reality. Despite these contradictions, we promote and justify spending impressive sums of dollars to show children a selection of wildlife in a captive and unnatural environment.
I am continuously told by those who exploit wildlife that we all love animals. The truth is, most people love what animals do for them and no more. To many, animals are merely a status symbol, the flavour of the day. When I see families dressed from head to toe in fur, claiming to love animals, I become very sad.
‘Defending endangered species is popular, alienates no one and allows everyone to continue their lifestyle. This should continue if the present mindsets can define the word “pragmatic” as politically and economically convenient.’
Designed to fail
I believe we are failing on conservation issues because we are addressing them from back to front. We have a choice, albeit a difficult one. Our present management style is to wait for a species to be at high risk before we act. Even at that, it must be proven beyond doubt that the species cannot sustain another onslaught before it can be considered for protection. Regardless, there are so many ways to beat the system.
Pro-active rather than re-active
Considering our dismal record in protecting endangered species and their habitats, why not work the other end of the street and protect those not yet listed? By doing this, we stop the ever-increasing list of species a risk.
It’s a game
Defending endangered species is popular, alienates no one and allows everyone to continue their lifestyle. This should continue if the present mindsets can define the word “pragmatic” as politically and economically convenient. Emphasis should be placed on common species and their habitats, regardless of their capital value or popularity.
* Failure is indicated here because we have lost 60% of our known wildlife in the past 50 years. Since 1975, when CITES effectively took control of global trade in all “at risk” species of Flora and Fauna, our losses have been devastating. Though much has changed in the past 50 years in the way we manage wildlife, the one thing that has not changed is our mindset which dictates that we can both protect and exploit simultaneously. Despite valiant efforts and personal sacrifices up to and including loss of life, our successes are dwarfed by our loss.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WestmountMag.ca or its publishers.
Feature image: Amrl30, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Georges R. Dupras has advocated for animals for over fifty years. A member of the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA), a Director of the Animal Alliance of Canada (AAC), Quebec Representative of Zoocheck Canada and past Board member of the Canadian SPCA, he worked on the original Save the Seal campaign in 1966 that culminated in the founding of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 1969. Georges Dupras has published two books, Values in Conflict and the eBook Ethics, a Human Condition, and currently lives in Montreal, Canada.