I’ll start with a little anecdote. My parents took me on a vacation to the Maldives when I was eight years old. They bought me a snorkeling kit, and encourage me to go into the beautiful blue waters and discover the amazing sea life there.
But I was terrified. I knew that the fish in the Maldives are not afraid of people – they swim right up against you. I also knew that there were sharks in the watear, and no amount of reassurances from my parents gave me the courage to go in.
Until our very last day in the Maldives, I was content to spend my time snorkeling in the pool on the island, where there were no fish, and no sharks, and all I could do was look at the tiles at the bottom of the pool. But something changed that day. Somehow I finally got the courage to go into the ocean, and snorkel the way you are supposed to.
And I loved it. I loved it so much that my parents had to drag me out of the water and onto the boat that was taking us to the airstrip island to the plane that would take us home to Mozambique.
And since then, I have been fascinated by marine animals and sea life in general. The ocean is the most magical thing on this planet, I think. At that age, I decided I wanted to become a marine biologist.
But I had also always had a passion for the arts, and when I was twelve I got my first little Kodak point-and-shoot stills camera. That camera led me to my other passions – photography and filmmaking. I decided that the logical way to combine my passions was to become an underwater photographer and videographer.
That story leads me to a more recent experience. The Vancouver Aquarium is obviously a place that I have been drawn to since I moved here. Any opportunity to get close to marine life, even through thick glass, is a good one for me.
But with every visit I find myself questioning the morality and value of keeping such beautiful, amazing creatures trapped in such an environment. The wannabe-biologist in me thinks that the legitimate excuse is to use these creatures as a means of studying their behavior and patterns up-close. The environmentalist in me retorts that we have should the means of studying these creatures in their natural spaces. That said, their “natural” habitats are quickly fading.
Then I look at those around me, at the Aquarium. The children laughing at the belugas, these sad, beautiful animals with a tragic permanent smile on their faces. The adults enjoying the quirky behaviors of the octopus, whose little tank can’t possibly be a comfortable space for his long tentacles.
In “Looking at the Non-Human” from The Culture of Nature by Alexander Wilson, he states the following: “Current biological theory suggests that animals sense themselves to be truly a part of the larger world, their selves extend beyond their skins to encompass an invisible region that includes the whole integrated web of relationships they’re a part of”. The terrible thing is that we as humans should have the same perception – that we do not own everything that surrounds us, but that we exist within an environment, that we are part of a much larger machine in which we are but tiny cogs.
He also states that “the archaic becomes synonymous with everything we understand to be lower on the evolutionary ladder”. But when I look at how marine life operates in complete symbiosis, how each creature serves a greater purpose in the cycles of the natural world, I don’t see humans at being at the top of the evolutionary ladder. Rather, because we are the product of centuries of being a territorial, possessive and self-centered species, we can only be the least evolved creatures around.
We do harbor an interesting fascination for this world around us. I am not the only person who is fascinated by the oceans, or other natural habitats. I am certainly not the only one who is aware of all of the problems that my species is causing. When Wilson questions why we document wildlife, he speculates that “perhaps it is because we feel ourselves to be also out there in the world, beyond our skins if not beyond our culture”. I recognize this from my own experiences.
My dilemma now is the following – the two things I am most fascinated by – marine life and filmmaking technology, sit on the two furthest ends of the spectrum of (human) existence. I fear I will spend the rest of my life in a struggle to find a way to make these two sides of me co-exist, to allow myself to transcend the doubts and ethical concerns that I am confronted with and accept that despite all of my arguments about how awful we are to these creatures and to our planet, I am only human.
And yes, I do get excited when I have a chance to go to the Aquarium.