Veterinarian to John Ball Zoo: Close Down Catastrophic Touch Tanks

PETA Appeal Comes After 18 Stingrays and Three Sharks Die Overnight

For Immediate Release:
July 12, 2016

David Perle 202-483-7382

Following the deaths of 21 animals in a touch tank—blamed on a mechanical failure—at the John Ball Zoo last week, PETA Foundation wildlife veterinarian Dr. Heather Rally sent zoo CEO Peter D’Arienzo a letter today calling on him to close all touch tank exhibits at the facility, writing, “Accidents happen, but that shouldn’t mean that animals pay with their lives.”

In the letter, Dr. Rally points to eight other incidents of stingray deaths that have occurred at similar touch tank exhibits across North America in recent years. She also notes that these kind of tanks—which are used to bait the public into visiting zoos—are harmful to marine life, as they subject animals to constant harassment and deny them everything that’s natural and important to them, including the opportunity to swim vast distances, socialize, and forage for food. “The animals become props, their very nature disregarded as the zoo uses them as lures to draw tourists in,” she says.

“Evidence shows that touch tanks are inhumane, unsanitary, and deadly,” writes Dr. Rally. “The John Ball Zoo should help prevent the next inevitable incident of mass death by agreeing to make the humane choice to close the exhibit for good.”

PETA’s motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment.”

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PETA’s letter to John Ball Zoo CEO Peter D’Arienzo follows.

July 12, 2016

Peter D’Arienzo

Chief Executive Officer

John Ball Zoo

Andy McIntyre

Chief Administrative Officer

John Ball Zoo

I am a veterinarian with the PETA Foundation. Last week, 18 rays and three sharks died from suffocation at the John Ball Zoo because the zoo failed to maintain both critical life-support systems and emergency back-up systems in adequate working condition to ensure the health and safety of these animals. I am writing today to ask you to honor the rays and sharks whose lives were lost at your facility by closing all touch-tank exhibits at the zoo.

As you well know, everything about a marine animal’s life in an aquarium is artificial, from the mineral seawater mixture to oxygen saturation levels, which would normally be produced by wave action and other natural processes. The basic life-sustaining elements of an artificial aquarium environment are held in a delicate balance, and the consequences of inevitable human error and mechanical malfunction are often deadly. Touch tanks have proved to be among the deadliest artificial environments of all.

Also, these kind of lethal failures are not uncommon. In the past nine years, eight other incidents of stingray death have occurred at similar exhibits across North America, including 40 stingrays who died at the Calgary Zoo of unknown causes just three months after the aquarium exhibit opened. In other incidents of mass death, 18 stingrays died in 2007 at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo and 54 died just last year at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois. The John Ball Zoo can help prevent the next incident of mass death by agreeing to make the humane choice to close the exhibit for good.

Catastrophic failure is not the only source of suffering for animals held in touch tanks. In artificial tanks, marine animals are unable to engage in innate types of natural behavior that are important for their well-being, which may include swimming over vast distances, migrating, socializing, and foraging for food. In the wild, cownose rays would naturally avoid human interaction and spend their days traveling in schools and foraging for invertebrates on the ocean floor. In touch tanks, these animals’ stinger barbs are trimmed, leaving them defenseless, and they are subject to constant harassment and denied the opportunity to forage as they naturally would. This harassment is not just unnatural—it could be unhealthy. Rays have a natural mucus coating on their skin that protects them from colonization by opportunistic pathogens. When human hands contact the rays’ skin, they can disrupt this basic protective mechanism and potentially inoculate the skin with a number of harmful foreign pathogens.

The rays and sharks who suffocated in your exhibit are among the many animals who have suffered for human amusement. Evidence shows that touch tanks are inhumane, unsanitary, and deadly. Accidents happen, but that shouldn’t mean that animals pay with their lives. Please don’t allow more animals to die and use this opportunity to demonstrate that aquariums should make humane and responsible decisions by closing the John Ball Zoo’s touch tanks for good.

Very truly yours,

Dr. Heather Rally

Wildlife Veterinarian

Captive Animal Law Enforcement

PETA Foundation

For Media: Contact PETA's
Media Response Team.


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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind