Interpreting animals in captivity

When most people step through the doors of the South Carolina Aquarium, they have a preset opinion in their mind about animals in captivity. You’d think, most of them, because they paid to get into the Aquarium, don’t have a negative viewpoint about the animals that we have in our care. However, that’s not always the case. So, the question is.. does the way that you interpret sway people’s opinions, ultimately driving them to care and take action to help these animals in the wild? It’s an important question to answer.

At the South Carolina Aquarium, we have a bald eagle that was rescued. She has a wing injury that prohibits her from flying, which is why she lives at the Aquarium. Over the past year, we have been hearing more and more negative comments about her being in captivity, looking “sad”, her exhibit space being too small, and being “tied” to the branch she sits on. We can only think that the increase in negative comments came after the movie Blackfish, an anti-captivity movie that played on the emotions of people pertaining to animals in zoos and aquariums. Of course we don’t want people to leave the Aquarium with a feeling of sadness or anger about our animals. How do we make sure that doesn’t happen? One way.. interpretation.

There is a sign at the exhibit, but it is placed over on the side where people have to search for it, and it is not as captivating as it should be. To me, personal engagement and interaction with guests trumps any signage, so we added “Liberty engage” to our daily floor schedule. We try to constantly have staff, interns, and volunteers engaging next to her exhibit to combat the negative feelings that they have. We want them to know that she has been given a second chance of life at the SCA, we want them to know that she isn’t tied to the branch.. those are actually jesses that we use to safely transport her to the roof every morning to get some outside time, we want them to know that her behavior is normal, we want them to know that she gets daily enrichment, and we want them to know that animal care is #1 at the South Carolina Aquarium. Personal engagement and interpretation is so powerful when it comes to conservation and the mission of the Aquarium. It has the power to completely change someone’s viewpoint regarding the animals in our care and what they can do to protect them in the wild. Our mission of conservation is lost amongst our visitors if we don’t use the power of interpretation to educate and inspire.



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