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Aquarium Fills a Vital Need

Even in death, animals benefit science, society

Atlanta (February 1, 2007) – By Jeff Swanagan, President & Executive Director, Georgia Aquarium Submitted to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Feb. 1, 2007

A front page article about the Georgia Aquarium written by Mark Davis in Tuesday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution omitted important information and offered statistics that are based more on detractor opinions than fact.

A key statistic that would have been of interest to readers is this: the overwhelming majority of Americans support zoos and aquariums across the country. In a 2005 Harris Poll, 95 percent of Americans said they believe that the public display of animals helps "promote environmental conservation," and 97 percent say that zoos and aquariums "are important in educating the public about marine mammals."

A statement in the article implied that beluga whales live shorter lives in aquariums, but the truth is that beluga whales live long healthy lives in facilities like the Georgia Aquarium. Various independent scientific studies conducted over decades by respected scientists including DeMaster, Small, Innes, Rodriguez and Crowder support this data.

The beluga whales in the Georgia Aquarium are well loved and receive world-class care. They enjoy extensive social enrichment programs and high quality food. The animals also receive the finest veterinary care and benefit from state-of- the-art medical technologies developed for human health care. The oldest beluga in North America is 39, well beyond the age the AJC says is the maximum life expectancy of belugas in our oceans. The fact is we still have a lot to learn about beluga whales, and by having them here, we are doing just that.

During our recent crises, the community has shown enormous encouragement and support through cards, e-mails and phone calls. We received thousands of cards of appreciation for our team's heroic efforts to save Gasper's life and sympathizing with the loss of Ralph. Gasper and Ralph taught us not only science, but also taught the community to care for these species so rarely seen or appreciated by most Americans.

With each guest that passes through our doors, the Georgia Aquarium has been able to broaden the understanding of aquatic animals. When I take a look at a child's face as a beluga whale blows a bubble or a whale shark passes overhead, when a family writes us after visiting to tell me they created a special bond with each other and with the animals, it is clear that through these bonds we open the hearts and minds of our guests to learn more about the animals in the world around them.

With each discovery under the microscope, our scientists have been able to break new ground in aquatic research. Because we are the only aquarium in the United States to house whale sharks, we take special pride in the research we are conducting and are achieving a better understanding of their behaviors and patterns. Our whale shark tracking and feeding studies in Mexico are also giving scholars and researchers a better understanding of the whale shark in its native habitat.

Sometimes in science we learn as much through death as through life. Animal rights groups and activists will use sad news to publicly attack zoos and aquariums. But the vast majority of Americans strongly support the kind of quality care the Georgia Aquarium team gives to the animals here and to the conservation of marine life in their native habitats. The Georgia Aquarium is an international educational attraction dedicated to making a difference in the lives of our guests and aquatic animals. The few detractors who have used the media to get free publicity for their agenda are drastically outweighed by the four million people who have showed their support by embracing the gift of the Georgia Aquarium.

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About the Georgia Aquarium

The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, is the world's largest with more than eight million gallons of water and more than 100,000 animals of 500 different species. The mission of the Georgia Aquarium is to be an entertaining, educational and scientific institution featuring exhibits and programs of the highest standards, offering engaging and exciting guest experiences and promoting the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world.

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