The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Other Victims

The pictures above are of the Fukushima Aquarium when I visited a few years ago. Happy memories indeed, an amazing place that is all an aquarium should be: stunning and natural, educational and fun. I am more than a little sad to hear it has been badly damaged in the earthquake and tsunami of March 11th.

Apparently many of the larger animals, like sea lions and seals were able to be saved, some having been moved to other zoos and aquariums in other regions of Japan but many of the others animals and fish died. The Aquarium also sits close to the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power station that  is still leaking radioactivity. This will, of course, only add to it woes.

It may seem churlish to worry about animals when so many people have lost their lives and livelihoods in the events of the last few weeks. Yet somehow the deaths of such animals seem even more pointedly sad because they did not ask to be there, they were captured, they performed, they were trapped and when the tsunami hit they could not get away without the help of the people who had put them in such a position in the first place. It is even more ironic in an aquarium than in a zoo that if such animals had been in their natural environment they would have been pretty safe, yet in the protective glass walls of such places the sea could easily and uncaringly kill them.

I love aquariums and zoo as I’ve said before, I love animals and the chance to see them up close is always exciting and such places make that possible. I can’t swim and I would never be able to experience the beauty of a shark or manta-ray swimming or a cloud of silvery fish turning as one and shimmering like a dream were it not for such places. I like only the good zoos though, I do not want to have the animal displayed, I want to look for it and see it doing something natural (even if that is hiding); I do not like it to perform and think that the sea lion shows and whale and dolphin enclosures are cruel and anachronistic in our supposedly more enlighten age.

Fukushima Aquarium had those yes, yet it also had huge tanks of dizzying dimensions where fish could swim almost free. I also loved that it was close to the sea. The outside image above was of the aquarium’s garden that faced the ocean giving you the chance to gaze out at the surface of the world you had just looked at from beneath while inside. It was an inspired idea, connecting the unreality of the visit to that other, wetter realm the aquarium could provide with the reality of the ocean and it true immensity and mystery. Unfortunately when the tsunami hit it was that proximity that destroyed it.

I’m not sure if that is some kind of poetic justice for such places. It could be seen as such all too easily but then again Fukushima Aquarium was one of the good zoos: it cared, it showed us why we should respect the sea and it tried to educate us about it. Perhaps many visitors on their way to the dolphin shows and performing seals forgot that part of the experience in the heady, irreverent pleasures of these risible acts. March 11th was the day the ocean took it dignity back from such things yet it still upsets me that so many animals that didn’t want to be there had to die in the process.

List of zoos and aquariums damaged and affected by the earthquake and tsunami with details of how people can help with Jaza here.




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