Why Save a Bug? A (Scientific) Love Letter to the Fireflies of New York City

Fireflies are natural magic. The pulse of bioluminescent light emitted by fireflies as a form of mating communication inspires a near-universal sense of wonder. Unfortunately, firefly populations experience a number of growing anthropogenic threats. Still, they find a way to flourish in a number of places, including one seemingly unlikely locale: big, bright, never-sleeping New York City. This is a scientific love letter to fireflies, and an open proposal for a research study geared towards understanding firefly urban ecology, in an attempt to nurture their populations and encourage their continued abundance for generations to come. 

Though known by many names- including lightning bugs, glow-worms, and candle flies (Lewis, 2016)- fireflies are actually beetles (order Coleoptera) in the family Lampyridae. In addition to serving important ecological functions, fireflies have an undeniable aesthetic appeal that makes them a flagship species, one whose protection might help anchor larger conservation efforts. In spite of their ecological significance and appeal, firefly species worldwide face a number of threats, and global populations are believed to be in decline (Fallon et al., 2021). Threats to fireflies will only magnify as human population growth and urbanization increase, but few studies have explored the ecology and welfare of fireflies in urban environments. 

This proposed study aims to understand where and how fireflies fare in urban environments by looking at one the most quintessential urban areas in the world: New York City (NYC). The study will source data from two streams: (1) a survey of firefly activity in pre-selected community gardens found within the five boroughs of New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island) and (2) a citizen science-sourced mapping of firefly sightings elsewhere throughout NYC. Through this data collection, the study aims to (1) use data collected from community gardens and parks to better understand what factors do and do not lead to abundant firefly populations in New York City and (2) use the map of firefly sightings to provide potential locations for subsequent studies aimed at improving firefly habitats in New York City. 

The potential results this study might yield could prove instrumental in (1) cultivating firefly populations within community gardens, parks, backyards, and other outdoor spaces in NYC, (2) using abundant populations to create a firefly ecotourism industry in NYC, (3) templatizing materials and methods for firefly researchers in other parts of the world, whose fireflies of interest are facing similar threats and, perhaps most importantly, (4) improving the lives of individual fireflies.

A brief statement of ethics: No fireflies or other animal species will be harmed during the experiment. Aside from the presence of human observers, this study will be non-invasive. No animals will be obtained as samples, and researchers, volunteers, and citizen scientists will be advised against handling and directly interacting with the fireflies in any way. By its very nature, this experiment aims for the utmost consideration of animal welfare, and hopes that its results will ultimately provide a benefit for firefly populations within and without New York City. 

Fireflies thrive primarily in low-lying moist areas with a clear understory (for ground-dwelling females to see flying males), a closed canopy, and darkness.  New York City (NYC) is uniquely situated in the Northeastern USA, a region known to be a firefly hotspot, and New York state itself has been reported as having between 33-53 species of firefly (C.E Fallon et al., 2019). As such, NYC presents a unique opportunity to understand how urbanization has affected a region that typically provides a robust habitat for fireflies. 

Fireflies have been observed in numerous locations around New York City (NYC). While proximity to light sources and other forms of human activity and disturbance vary, these fireflies were observed mostly in small gardens and public parks. Therefore, this proposed study will select community gardens in NYC as the field sites for observations. Urban community gardens offer an opportunity for researchers to assess an ecosystem that is (1) rich with plant life and other ecosystem elements found in parks and small gardens, (2) enclosed within an urban environment, and (3) easily accessible for researchers and volunteers. A fourth consideration could be malleability: community gardens may be modified in the future in order to better suit firefly welfare. 

GreenThumb, a division of the NYC Parks Department, provides programming and material support to over 550 community gardens throughout NYC (Source: GreenThumb). These volunteer-run gardens are located in each of the five boroughs and support a variety of uses- from green spaces meant for relaxation to meeting spaces, full-fledged farms, and everything in between. 

In anticipation of a coming summer (i.e., beginning in February or March), an initial email blast will be sent to GreenThumb’s listserv- that is, every community garden that has a volunteer or representative with an active email address. This preliminary email will ask (a) if any fireflies were spotted in their garden within the past two summers and (b) if they would be open to taking part in a study to assess the state of firefly populations in New York City. 

Out of the responders who are willing to take part in the study, a total of twenty (20) gardens will be selected, ten (10) of which will be gardens where fireflies have been sighted within the past two years, and ten (10) of which will be gardens where fireflies have not been sighted. Two (2) of each type of garden will be selected for each of the five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island) (4 gardens total per burrough).

Prior to commencing observational research, preliminary surveys will be conducted for each garden, including interviews with the volunteer(s) who run them. The surveys and interviews will gather an inventory of data including, but not necessarily limited to: the plant life in the garden, light sources, light pollution and its wavelengths, additional animal life that frequents the garden, current garden maintenance practices, land-use history, pesticide and fertilizer treatment, soil quality, elevation, air quality, and characteristics of the surrounding area outside of the garden (e.g., level of human activity, and other notable factors). 

Then, observational data will be collected twice weekly by researchers and/or community garden volunteers over a two-month period, from July 1st through August 31st, during the summer months when fireflies are most abundant. Data will be collected within the gardens from 19:00-21:00 Eastern Time (from dusk to nightfall, when fireflies are most active). In the event of inclement weather or other unforeseen hindrances, no data will be recorded, and those days will be reported as such. 

For each biweekly observation session, researchers and/or volunteers will adhere to a form questionnaire, in which they will record: date and time of observation, habitat notes (any notable changes or deviations from the previous week), temperature, precipitation, wind, cloud cover, and artificial light sources. For firefly data collection, observers will note the number of flashing fireflies that they witness over the course of three ten-second periods, repeated once every fifteen (15) minutes. Additionally, observers will note the number of different flashing patterns, as well as the most common flash pattern. Space will be provided for any additional notes of interest. 

In addition to the aforementioned experimental plots (the community gardens), less formal and more anecdotal, citizen science evidence will be gathered in an attempt to widen the field of vision for potential firefly habitats. Citizen science to track firefly populations has already proven fruitful (Chow & White, 201), and several prominent institutions, such as the Massachusetts Audubon Society have their own citizen science firefly watching initiatives in place (Source: MassAudubon). This study’s citizen science data will be collected both passively and actively from July 1st through August 31st, and will comprise the following: 

A weekly scan of four major social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok) will aim to identify any and all local posts regarding firefly sightings. Wherever possible, sightings will be geolocated, and further details will be gathered, based on the individual social media user’s willingness to share information. 

In addition to scanning social media, the study will actively solicit field reports from citizen scientists using an online survey submission form. This online survey will ask ordinary citizens who happen to see fireflies to submit any and all observations that they can make. Survey questions will include: date, precise location, habitat type (e.g., open field in public park, wooded area of park, etc.), temperature, precipitation, wind, cloud cover, and any artificial light sources present. Included in the form will be a link to a firefly observation key, should the participants be willing and able to observe flash frequencies and types. While all data will be valuable, the two most essential factors (and the easiest) to gather are date, time, and precise geographic location. 

In order to aid in this process, several promotional endeavors will be undertaken. Flyers will be printed and canvassed around public parks and a predetermined cross section of neighborhoods, especially those with large amounts of backyard gardens. Email and social media blasts, as well as door-to-door canvassing, will attempt to inform as many New Yorkers as possible about the program. Social media posts and email blasts will include a link to the survey form. Printed flyers will include a scannable QR code that will link an observer’s mobile phone directly to the survey. In approaching various interest groups, particular attention will be paid to notifying public parks and select “outdoors” groups (e.g., birders, club sports teams)- those people who are most likely to encounter fireflies.

A foundational source of data for this study will be its firefly counts. That is, in which gardens do fireflies live, how many fireflies are there, and when do they appear in highest (and lowest) numbers over the course of two months? 

Furthermore, each community garden will have been surveyed for its plant life, light sources, light pollution and its wavelengths, additional animal life that frequents the garden, current garden maintenance practices, land-use history, pesticide and fertilizer treatment, soil quality, elevation, air quality, and characteristics of the surrounding area outside of the garden (e.g., level of human activity, and other notable factors). 

The most clear observations that can be assessed will be the distinctions between gardens that have fireflies, and those that do not. From there, we may be able to investigate more subtle nuances between the gardens that do have fireflies. Given the breadth of data collected, any number of patterns may emerge, and will require a rigorous statistical analysis. For example, community gardens with a history of pesticide use and/or industrial use may support fewer (or no) fireflies. Similar observations can be made for soil and air quality, as well as the presence or absence of prey and predator species. Perhaps community gardens with human-made ponds and fountains will support a more robust population of fireflies, and perhaps those at higher elevations will support fewer of them. 

For the purposes of the present proposal, we consider two potentially significant pieces of data: artificial light at night (ALAN) and plant species. To what extent did ALAN affect the quantities of fireflies and their number of appearances? Were there certain wavelengths that appeared to affect fireflies more than others? With regard to plants, were there any notable botanical commonalities between high- and low-firefly zones?

While the survey distributed to citizen scientists will ask a number of observational questions, the primary goal of the citizen science component of this paper will be to geolocate any and all locations where fireflies are spotted in New York City. Therefore, one of the more fruitful data displays will come in the form of maps of each of the five boroughs of New York City, with the locations and frequencies of firefly observations indicated. 

Though fireflies exist in a wide range of habitats, common ecological denominators of such locations include the presence of moisture and rich organic matter. Ideal habitats, for example, could be forested areas near water, interdunal freshwater depressions, grasslands, and even desert canyons. Their most acute threats include light pollution, habitat degradation and loss, pesticide use, climate change, introduced species, disturbance from tourism, and commercial harvesting and overcollection (C. Fallon et al., 2019).

Preliminary research provides illustrations that the more urban and light-polluted an environment gets, the fewer fireflies there are (Picchi et al., 2013). Numerous other studies indicate that artificial light at night (ALAN) has adverse effects on firefly fitness. Light pollution has the potential to decrease courtship and mating behavior between male and female fireflies (Firebaugh & Haynes, 2019). It may do this by reducing flashing activities among courting males and females (Firebaugh & Haynes, 2016). Light pollution also has adverse effects on firefly larvae (Mbugua et al., 2020; Owens & Lewis, 2021). This disturbance is likely due in large part to the similarities between the wavelengths of human-generated light, and those of flashing fireflies (Owens et al., 2018). 

As human populations grow and urbanization increases, the deleterious effects of ALAN and other threats are likely to grow more pronounced. While urban environments like New York City (NYC) are likely to include a number of the threats facing fireflies, ALAN constitutes a particularly clear factor (NYC is, after all, “the city that never sleeps”). Additional studies highlight the growing threat of light pollution, and aim to create frameworks for evaluating such threats in order to assess the vulnerabilities of species facing urbanization (Vaz et al., 2021). Therefore, this proposal has prioritized hypothetical data gathered around the light intensity and wavelength(s) around the community gardens under observation. An additional source of data of interest will be the plant life found in each of the community gardens. As previously mentioned, the amount of organic matter present affects firefly welfare. Furthermore, invasive plants are a significant threat to firefly populations (C. Fallon et al., 2019). 

It is unclear how much observational data will be collected through this study’s citizen science component. While the online survey distributed will include prompts and space for numerous different observations (e.g., weather and temperature), it is anticipated that casual reporters may not always have the time nor interest to put in that much effort. Therefore, this proposal aims to highlight the most significant data point to be gathered from citizen scientists: the precise locations of firefly sightings in NYC. 

One study assessing the state of urban firefly populations in Italy indicates that corridors- areas of suitable habitat connecting populations between uninhabitable areas dominated by human activities or structures- were essential to sustaining firefly populations (Picchi et al., 2013). Such a point hints at the tip of the iceberg of potential utility for this proposed study. 

Data collected from this study could, for example, be used to provide guidelines and tips for cultivating firefly habitats in New York City and other urban environments. The map(s) generated by this proposed study’s citizen science surveys could serve as a springboard into sourcing locations for such an endeavor. In addition to disseminating a sort of “firefly handbook” to parks and community gardens, the information can be circulated around neighborhoods and into the homes of ordinary citizens who have backyards, in an effort to create as many “firefly corridors” as possible in NYC. Additional research could also compare backyards in which citizens cultivate firefly-friendly habitats with control backyards in which there are no such interventions. If these methods are successfully implemented in NYC, perhaps they can be applied to other urban environments where fireflies face similar threats. 

With respect to ALAN, further research can be conducted into wavelengths of light that affect NYC’s firefly populations most acutely. If such wavelengths are determined, that data could pave the way for experiments that test the effects of lights with less intrusive wavelengths on firefly fitness and welfare. Findings from such a report could be used to influence public policy by encouraging public and private buildings to adjust their light sources by, perhaps, adding filters. 

The data gathered in this proposed study’s citizen science facet can be used to assess what it takes to get ordinary citizens involved in conservation efforts. Is there one method of approach and/or marketing that works better than others? How can a study keep potential participants engaged, so as to maximize the amount of data obtained? Answering these questions will lead to improved further studies within NYC, and in other urban settings around the world. In tandem, the survey experience itself can be improved. This proposal currently utilizes a link to an online survey in order to obtain citizen science data, but future studies might benefit from a more streamlined mobile app that allows participants to easily submit their findings, and that better organizes the findings. 

Broader research outside of cities can explore firefly population dynamics, particularly how firefly populations may or may not be able to establish themselves in new locations. If we can understand how fireflies come to populate areas, perhaps we can encourage their re-population in urban environments lacking fireflies. In addition to ALAN, further research could zero in on assessments of individual elements recorded in this proposed study, like insecticide and land use histories. Another future study might work to identify physiological differences between urban, suburban, and rural populations of fireflies in the New York City area and beyond. Do NYC fireflies behave differently from those living in upstate New York? Might there be any subtle differences in the wavelengths of their flashes?

The most idealistic hope for this proposed study is for it to serve as a stepping stone on the way to cultivating firefly ecotourism in New York City. In spite of the threats faced by these animals, firefly tourism is on the rise (Lewis et al., 2021) and could serve as an essential measure in keeping up public awareness of conservation efforts. Starting a firefly ecotourism industry in New York City’s public gardens would be an opportunity to spread the wonder of fireflies to a human population that, for the most part, does not regularly witness them. 

Studying firefly ecology in urban environments can provide insight into how firefly populations must adapt to a world increasingly dominated by human activity. Such data will provide useful guidance for the number of researchers, organizations, and citizen scientists who have devoted their lives to firefly research and conservation, including the Fireflyers International Network, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and Firefly.org (Sources: Fireflyers International Network; Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; MassAudubon; Firefly.org). 

The most frequent scientific discussions about fireflies (including the bulk of this proposed study) center on maintenance and survival of their populations. With that said, this proposed study sincerely hopes that any data gathered can be used to respect and appreciate the perspective of an individual firefly. What does it feel like to be a firefly? What is it to find true purpose in the search for a returned flash of light? Imagining the experience of finding a firefly mate through human eyes is dreamlike and surreal- that is, until one considers the threats facing fireflies. Often, the people we love the most appear like lighthouses in an otherwise inhospitable landscape. What must it be like to watch the light of one’s most beloved beacon grow more and more faint? What must it be like to no longer see that beacon at all? 

Shortly before her passing just a few months ago, poet Kamilah Aisha Moon published a poem entitled Fireflies, in which the speaker is transported into the world of these marvelous insects. 

The poem concludes: 

Inside the brightest nook

of themselves, they are

everything they did

right, everything that

made sense at the time

still bringing

residual joy. Ambient,

my parents winged

& lit from every angle

hover, untaxed delight!

I don’t blink, don’t dare

try to capture them

in the mason jar

of my hungers

nor halt them

shimmering, spellbound.

Fireflies are slow and gentle creatures, non-threatening to humans, easy to approach, and even easier to capture, but this accessibility belies their profound vulnerability. As children, we may have captured fireflies in mason jars and wondered at their glow, but it is time to temper our impulse to catch, to obtain, and to covet the things we find beautiful. This study aims to be a step in that direction, towards appreciating the wonder and beauty of a remarkable species, but in a way that respects their autonomy, and that serves as a guide for further research and conservation efforts to do the same. 


Chow, A. T., & White, D. L. (2014). Vanishing fireflies: A citizen-science project promoting scientific inquiry and environmental stewardship. Science Education and Civic Engagement, 6(1). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260833756

Fallon, C. E., Walker, A. C., Lewis, S., Cicero, J., Faust, L., Heckscher, C. M., Pérez-Hernández, C. X., Pfeiffer, B., & Jepsen, S. (2021). Evaluating firefly extinction risk: Initial red list assessments for North America. PLoS ONE, 16 (11 November 2021). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0259379

Fallon, C., Hoyle, S., Lewis, S., Owens, A., Lee-Mäder, E., Black, S. H., & Jepsen, S. (2019). Conserving the Jewels of the Night Guidelines for Protecting Fireflies in the United States and Canada.

Firebaugh, A., & Haynes, K. J. (2016). Experimental tests of light-pollution impacts on nocturnal insect courtship and dispersal. Oecologia, 182(4), 1203–1211. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-016-3723-1

Firebaugh, A., & Haynes, K. J. (2019). Light pollution may create demographic traps for nocturnal insects. Basic and Applied Ecology, 34, 118–125. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.baae.2018.07.005

Firefly Conservation & Research, https://www.firefly.org/. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021. 

Fireflyers International Network, https://fireflyersinternational.net/. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021. 

GreenThumb, http://greenthumb.nycgovparks.org. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021. 

Lewis, S. M., Thancharoen, A., Wong, C. H., López‐Palafox, T., Santos, P. V., Wu, C., Faust, L., de Cock, R., Owens, A. C. S., Lemelin, R. H., Gurung, H., Jusoh, W. F. A., Trujillo, D., Yiu, V., López, P. J., Jaikla, S., & Reed, J. M. (2021). Firefly tourism: Advancing a global phenomenon toward a brighter future. Conservation Science and Practice, 3(5). https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.391

Lewis, Sara. Silent Sparks : The Wondrous World of Fireflies, Princeton University Press, 2016. MassAudubon,https://www.massaudubon.org/get-involved/community-science/firefly-watch. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021. 

Mbugua, S. W., Wong, C. H., & Ratnayeke, S. (2020). Effects of artificial light on the larvae of the firefly Lamprigera sp. in an urban city park, Peninsular Malaysia. Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology, 23(1), 82–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aspen.2019.10.005

Moon, Kamilah Aisha. “Fireflies.” World Literature Today, https://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/blog/black-voices/fireflies-kamilah-aisha-moon. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021. 

Owens, A. C. S., & Lewis, S. M. (2021). Effects of artificial light on growth, development, and dispersal of two North American fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). Journal of Insect Physiology, 130. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jinsphys.2021.104200

Owens, A. C. S., Meyer-Rochow, V. B., & Yang, E. C. (2018). Short- and mid-wavelength artificial light influences the flash signals of Aquatica ficta fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). PLoS ONE, 13(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0191576

Picchi, M. S., Avolio, L., Azzani, L., Brombin, O., & Camerini, G. (2013). Fireflies and land use in an urban landscape: The case of Luciola italica L. (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) in the city of Turin. Journal of Insect Conservation, 17(4), 797–805. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-013-9562-z

Vaz, S., Manes, S., Gama-Maia, D., Silveira, L., Mattos, G., Paiva, P. C., Figueiredo, M., & Lorini, M. L. (2021). Light pollution is the fastest growing potential threat to firefly conservation in the Atlantic Forest hotspot. Insect Conservation and Diversity, 14(2), 211–224. https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12481

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, http://xerces.org. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021.

Cover Photo by Tony Phan on Unsplash

Essay: Evicting My Rodent Roommates

The following is a reaction paper to Animal Spaces, Beastly Places, edited by Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert.

Does the apartment that I rent belong to me, or to the mice and rats that frequent the space behind my oven? A wire leading to the oven’s ignitor had broken. A repair person fixed it, and pointed out that we had a lot of rodent feces behind the oven. A day later, the oven stopped working, and when the repair person returned, he observed that the animals had chewed through the new wire. I asked him if there was a way to reinforce the wire, to which he replied, “You need an exterminator to come and kill ‘em.” I don’t want to kill them, but if I don’t address the fact that there are mice and rats living behind my oven, chewing through ignitor wires, I will not be able to cook, and will be forced to pay hefty appliance repair fees. But do they have to die?

In Animal Spaces, Beastly Places, editors Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert explore the sociological, anthropological, and historical underpinnings of my dilemma. They expound on the notion of “imaginative geographies of animals,” which alludes to the ways in which human beings come to “place” animals and define them in terms of the spaces they inhabit, and the ways in which those spaces interact with those that we humans inhabit. “Humans are always… enmeshed in social relations with animals…” they write (2), in a manner most often defined by “an oppressive, dominating power by humans over animals” (4). Their investigation is, broadly, a study of “where and how… the lines get drawn… between human and non-human animals” (7). 

The “eco” exterminator that came to the apartment recommended some structural fixes and a round of poison traps, which kill the animals through severe dehydration. In my house growing up, we used “Havahart” traps and released any mice that we caught into the woods several miles away. Naturally, I asked the exterminator to use his humane, catch-and-release traps. These would, he noted, be more costly and require additional visits. 

While no animals will be killed in this process, it remains difficult for me to justify removing them from a place that, presumably, they have inhabited longer than I, who only moved in two months ago. Philo and Wilbert touch upon this notion of agency, too, assessing whether animals have any say, any role to play, in the spaces that we delineate as “theirs” or “ours.” Indeed, my relationship with the animals behind my oven “raises broader concerns about non-human agency… and the extent to which we can say that animals destabilise [sic], transgress or even resist our human orderings, including spatial ones” (5). Out of disorder behind my oven, these animals made order.The authors suggest that we extend human “courtesies” to animals, “allowing them the decencies of life, space, and place that we humans would expect and want for ourselves and others” (25). I agree, and I suppose I’m doing the best that I can with my furry roommates. Maybe these “in-between animals” who inhabit “in-between spaces” (21) are unique in that they have the agency to find a new place to live. Still, I can’t help wondering, is this apartment really my home? What is it about humanity that gives us the right to claim a place, but not a mouse or rat? I’ll think about it over dinner tonight in this apartment, this place that is mine but not really mine, and go to sleep with the humble hope that the universe lets me stay the night.

Cover Photo by Mert Guller on Unsplash

Essay: Why Won’t the Georgia Aquarium Return My Calls?

This essay was written as my final paper for my class, “The People Versus the Sea,” taught by Professor Paul Greenberg. Since writing this piece in May 2021, another whale shark- Alice- died at the Georgia Aquarium.

On Thursday, April 18, 1935, a nearly fifteen foot tiger shark became tangled in the lines of a commercial fishing boat off Maroubra Point, New South Wales, Australia. Still alive, the animal was taken from the water and placed on display in the Coogee Aquarium in Sydney. It swam continuously around its small holding pool, and did not eat for a week. On April 25th, its behavior grew erratic. It thrashed at the water with its tail and regurgitated several objects: pieces of another shark, a partly digested bird, assorted bones, and a human arm.¹ This story, nestled within the pages of Richard Ellis’s The Book of Sharks, is one of the reasons why, as a child, I fell in love with sharks. In a sense, it’s also partly responsible for my relentless outreach to aquariums over the past two months.

The first rule when it comes to communicating with aquariums is to not ask about their dead animals. Had I known that from the start, this whole process might have gone a lot smoother. But, as it happens, what began as an earnest interest in learning about sharks in captivity has morphed into a tale of baffling and potentially shady human behavior, one that ultimately presents a new insight into the lives of some of the most ancient and magnificent animals ever to grace our planet.

Like many children, I grew up enamored by sharks. Coupled with Richard Ellis’s book, I saw Steven Spielberg’s Jaws at a young age (too young, by most standards) and was, well, hooked. Sharks were these unseen mysteries of the deep, riddled with contradictions: captivating and dangerous, powerful, graceful, and terrifying all at once. What could have been a traumatizing viewing experience birthed a sense of profound wonder that I’ve tried to cling to over the years.

I wasn’t surprised to feel a flicker of sadness this past November when I saw a catchy headline about a whale shark that died at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Trixie, as she was known, passed on November 27, 2020. At the time of her death, she had been there for fourteen years. On the day she died, the Georgia Aquarium released a concise statement via social media: “She was having difficulty navigating the habitat,” they wrote, “and then her health rapidly declined… Exhaustive veterinary and animal care efforts” were not enough to save her.² Evidently heartbroken by this animal’s death, the aquarium proclaimed that they were “proud to have been stewards of her care” and closed with a tender message directly addressing the shark: “We will miss you, Trixie.” I didn’t think too much about why I felt sad. A shark died, and she had a name. I like sharks, and I’m a person with a name. The aquarium said they were going to miss her. Straightforward emotional chemistry, I suppose.

Several months later, though, Trixie returned to me. I had enrolled in a Master’s Program at New York University, in Animal Studies, and was taking a course about humanity’s relationship with the ocean in all its many forms. In an attempt to rekindle that childhood wonder under the auspices of academic investigation, I poked around the Internet to see if I could find out more about Trixie. I remembered the aquarium’s statement: We will miss you, Trixie. What was it about Trixie that made her death so painful to those who cared for her over the course of her time at the aquarium? Did she have a charismatic personality? I mean, did she bond with a curmudgeonly aquarist, or perhaps befriend a lonely little girl who visited the exhibit from time to time? What stories did Trixie’s life contain?

News outlets repeated the same cursory descriptions of Trixie’s life.³ ⁴ They wrote that she was flown to the United States from Taiwan in 2006, then reprinted the aquarium’s statement, and peppered in a few colorful facts about whale sharks. Did you know that whale sharks are the largest fishes in the sea? They’re gentle giants, though, feeding mainly on plankton and other small aquatic organisms. Full-grown whale sharks generally range from eighteen to thirty-two feet long, but have been measured at over sixty. They face a number of threats, including entanglement in fishing nets and ingestion of ocean pollutants and plastics. The basic picture was that Trixie was a big fish that came from Taiwan and lived at an aquarium for over a decade. Ostensibly, that is her story. But it’s not a satisfying one, and a hunch told me there must be more to Trixie than meets the Facebook post.

A little more searching, and it became apparent that Trixie was not the first whale shark to die at the Georgia Aquarium. In 2007, the aquarium euthanized Norton, a young whale shark whose health declined over the course of several months, and who, near the end, had to be force-fed through a PVC pipe.⁵ Five months earlier, another whale shark, Ralph, died at the aquarium (Trixie, along with Ralph, Norton, and a fourth shark- Alice- were named after the four principle characters in the 1950s sitcom, The Honeymooners).⁶ In a 2010 blog interview, the Georgia Aquarium’s then-Chief Science Officer, Dr. Bruce Carlson, addressed the potential controversies surrounding these untimely deaths. “Of course they are better off!” he maintained, advocating for captivity and pointing out that the whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium had been rescued before they could be sold to Taiwanese fish market.⁷ (Taiwan has since banned the sale and killing of whale sharks.)

Scant details remained, and so the only way to really get at Trixie’s story was to go directly to the source: the Georgia Aquarium itself. Surely, they would welcome a conversation with a passionate, curious shark enthusiast (and student!) eager to learn about their flagship animal. I emailed the aquarium, earnestly inquiring about Trixie and what made her such a special shark. I leaned back in my chair and waited. But I didn’t hear back.

I called the aquarium and spoke to an operator who, upon hearing the purpose of my call, let out an audible sigh and quickly asked me for a callback number, indicating that someone would get back to me. I insisted on giving her my email address, too, and could barely finish relaying the .edu extension before she ended the conversation. I waited a few days, but no one returned my call. I went through the aquarium’s directory, tried their Media Relations office, and left a voicemail for Hannah Hardwick, the aquarium’s Public Relations Coordinator. Hannah never called back. I ascertained Hannah’s likely email address, as well as that of Kelly Link- an Associate Curator of Sharks at the Georgia Aquarium- and sent them each an email. I have not heard back from either.

I teetered between two vague conclusions. The neutral interpretation: the aquarium didn’t have the time nor interest in speaking with a Master’s student for his class paper. Fair enough. The Georgia Aquarium is one of the largest and most well known aquariums in the world, and I imagine they receive countless media inquiries. That mine was cast aside, or that it simply slipped through the cracks, is entirely plausible, and maybe even likely.

There is another angle, though. Perhaps the aquarium did receive my messages, loud and clear, was acutely aware of my inquiries, and actively ignored them because they did not want to speak about Trixie and their whale sharks- at least not with someone who hasn’t been vetted, who might paint an unflattering picture of their institution. That, of course, is a much more incendiary claim, one that I would prefer to back up with clear evidence. In our age of fake news, I do not want to add to the mix of illegitimate storytelling whose controversy runs the risk of overshadowing its message. I would like to advocate for sharks, but to do so truthfully.

While I waited by the phone, I further considered my fascination with Trixie, and my emotional connection to her death. I remembered that other whale sharks had died so, naturally, began to think more critically about the nature of shark captivity in general. Was there not something awry with the image of Trixie’s massive body being held in a tank? If there was, indeed, something “fishy” about the Georgia Aquarium’s unresponsiveness, then perhaps this points to deeper issues surrounding why an aquarium might be ambivalent about addressing questions surrounding shark captivity. Maybe they’re wary of animal rights activists tainting their public image. After all, much has been protested about the nature of dolphin and whale captivity, and popular films like Blackfish serve as clear indications that there are serious ethical concerns surrounding the maintenance of cetaceans in captivity. But cetaceans are visibly charismatic, social, and emotional mammals. They’re like us. Orcas, for example, have all manner of empathetic media identities- from Free Willy to Blackfish– to engender public affection. Sharks have, what? Shark Week and Jaws? As cartilaginous fishes, and not mammals, there is an undeniably larger chasm of relatability between our species.

Concerned that I might never connect with the Georgia Aquarium, I reached out to several other reputable organizations, armed with a handful of reasonably objective but direct questions about shark captivity. I indicated, without any clear biases, that I wanted to understand more about how and why sharks were maintained in captivity and, of course, to feel out why shark captivity might be considered a controversial issue. Wary of coming on too strong, I made sure not to frame my approach as one with an angle, let alone an activist bent. While I’ll admit that my gut was skeptical of the merits of shark captivity, I was and remain absolutely open to compelling alternative arguments. Brendan Pisarski, an aquarist at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut, graciously agreed to answer some of my questions, but not by phone. He asked that I send him a document with my questions, which he then filled in with concise, matter-of-fact answers. Without the ability to engage Brendan in a fluid, emotionally dynamic conversation, my questions fell flat and elicited dry, perfunctory answers.

“The most important thing to consider with sharks,” Pisarski wrote, “is the same for all animals in captivity, enforcing natural behavior.”⁸ An exhibit must promote natural swimming patterns and present similar stimulation to their natural surroundings. According to Pisarski, sharks do, in fact, display unique personalities, and “all have different temperaments.” To the question concerning the ethics of shark captivity, he wrote, “as long as the exhibit is large enough and gives them a natural environment, having a reasonable population size should not be an issue… with the proper care, sharks in captivity can be useful for education and research.” As grateful as I am for Brendan’s openness to speaking, I couldn’t help feeling as though something was missing from his answers- a certain measure of candor, perhaps. But, as is the case with the Georgia Aquarium, I didn’t feel I had enough evidence to make a judgment about Brendan’s attitude towards me or the sharks, and certainly could not wholly judge aquariums in general.

Fortunately, I made contact with Dr. Merry Camhi, the Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Seascape, an initiative that, per their website, “seeks to raise public awareness and take action to conserve threatened marine wildlife in the New York Bight.”⁹ Dr. Camhi’s work focuses on sharks in particular, and she has been a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Shark Specialist Group since 1994, previously serving as Deputy Chair and co-editor of Shark News. She was the perfect person to speak with. Merry’s schedule was a little hectic, she let me know, so we had to play a bit of email tag. Still, I remained confident that we would lock a time soon enough, and that she would provide the sort of perspective- maybe even closure- that I sought.

In the meantime, I reread Brendan Pisarski’s notes, carefully considering his comments about education, building suitable environments for the sharks, and proper husbandry. Brendan had also pointed me to an invaluable resource: the Elasmobranch Husbandry Manual, which details the practical science of keeping sharks in captivity (sharks, along with rays, are elasmobranchs, fishes characterized by their cartilaginous skeletons, five to seven gill slits, and pectoral fins that are not fused to the head). At nearly 600 pages, this is the book on captive shark husbandry.

Unsurprisingly, the book strongly advocates for the virtues of keeping sharks in aquariums. Among other points, it highlights that “Much of what we know about these inscrutable animals has been learned through observing them in aquaria.”¹⁰ The goals of the manual appeared to be well-meaning: to “assist in the understanding, protection, and recovery of threatened shark… species worldwide… provide quality conservation project opportunities for public aquariums… and establish the public aquarium community as a significant player in elasmobranch conservation.” Some of the many subjects that the book’s thirty-nine chapters cover include: historical approaches to shark captivity, species selection and collection, quarantine and isolation, design and construction of exhibits, water quality and life support systems, capture and transport techniques, acclimatization and introduction, safety protocols for diving with the sharks, behavioral enrichment, nutrition, food handling and feeding techniques, age and growth monitoring, reproduction and physiology, genetics, behavioral changes, physical examination and immobilization, diagnostic imaging, hematology, diseases, pharmacology, and necropsy, in addition to chapters on several specific species of shark.

It references a number of studies that indicate how special these animals are. Sharks can “exhibit relatively complex behaviors” and “communicate and interact with conspecifics and other species.”¹⁰ Sharks have the same five senses as humans, plus a sixth: electroreception. The brain size of many sharks is comparable to that of birds and mammals, a finding that undercuts the more common notion that they have comparatively small brains- a misconception stemming from early studies that focused on more primitive species. Sharks also exhibit learning behavior. Reef sharks associate the sound of boat engines and divers entering water with the presence of food. Many captive sharks quickly come to know the location and timing of their feeding sessions.

I sent another inquiry to the Georgia Aquarium, this time to an address I found for their media relations department. A few days later, I received a reply from Dr. Lisa Hoopes, the aquarium’s Director of Research, Conservation & Nutrition. She expressed a willingness to speak with me, but asked that I elaborate on my project further. The aquarium has “a formal process for requesting information for research purposes.”¹¹ I gladly explained, saying that I was an open-minded writer interested in learning about Trixie the whale shark, and about the nature of shark captivity.

A day later, I confirmed a time to speak with Dr. Merry Camhi, who insisted that I also speak with Hans Walters, a shark biologist and field researcher with the New York Aquarium. She told me that Hans was flexible for a call the next day and, in her subsequent e-introduction to Hans, told me, “I don’t think I could find another person IN THE WORLD [sic] that could better address your questions about the pros and cons of sharks in captivity than Hans, and he definitely has some opinions I know he’ll share.”¹² Merry sent my preliminary questions to Hans.

As I thumbed through the husbandry manual’s copious shark facts, though, red flags began to wave on the horizon, signs that captivity may not be so virtuous. One brief passage, for example, indicates that the transportation of sharks alone runs the risk of “physical injury, elevated energy expenditure, impaired gas exchange, compromised systemic circulation, hypoglycemia, blood acidosis, hyperkalemia, accumulation of metabolic toxins, and declining water quality.”¹⁰

The aforementioned husbandry manual constitutes the cumulative product of the 2001 Elasmobranch Husbandry Symposium in Orlando, Florida. A collection of papers gathered and anthologized from the symposium further troubled my outlook on shark captivity. One section delineates the immense complexity of the swimming patterns of sharks, and then goes on to say that, in captivity, “the entire [swimming] sequence… goes through an abrupt change due either to limitations in the size of the tank or a poorly designed tank shape which does not consider the needs of the shark.”¹³ It further highlights that sharks held in tanks must turn far more often than they do in the wild, an unnatural behavior that burns larger amounts of calories than they ever would in nature. Sharks are “doomed from the start to burn up excess calories,” which manifests in “reduced red blood cell replacement, tissue repair and general body condition, i.e., exhaustion and inevitable death.” Health considerations aside, the text notes that one of the fundamental criteria for determining the size of a shark exhibit is “the amount of money [they] have in the budget.”

To avoid running into walls, sharks must swim more slowly than usual (“like an airplane during landing”), utilizing excessive amounts of energy just to stop from sinking.¹³ Eventually, sharks learn that the longest straight line to swim involves hugging the outer walls of their tank. But this, too, “is not an economical use of energy, similar to an aircraft using more power when circling just to stay at the same altitude.” Furthermore, this circular swimming “results in an inefficient operation of the gills, since one side is partially closed,” thus requiring sharks to increase their speed in order to obtain adequate oxygen. In closing, the collection of papers maintains that the onus is on aquarists to pay careful attention to the sharks’ needs if they want to continue to keep the animals on display. “Only then will the public be able to appreciate these animals properly as they present themselves in their natural behavior rather than as swimming zombies just waiting to die.”

I still hadn’t heard back from Lisa Hoopes at the Georgia Aquarium, but the day came for Merry Camhi and I to speak over the phone. Our agreed upon time was 5:00pm. At 3:00pm, she sent the promised e-introduction to Hans Walters and me. About an hour later, I jumped in and emailed Hans directly, asking him what times might work for him the next day (after all, Merry had indicated that Hans was flexible). The clock struck five, but Merry didn’t call. I gave it some time, but the phone didn’t ring. She did say, earlier on that day, that her schedule was hectic, and that if by some chance 5:00pm no longer worked, she’d let me know. Hours passed, though, without a call or an email update, and I gradually accepted that, for whatever reason, Merry would not be calling me. In spite of my momentary frustration, I knew Merry had so far been nothing but cordial, so it seemed premature of me to judge her with anything but the benefit of the doubt. While I remained appreciative of her time and busy schedule, I couldn’t help noticing a strange irony at work. The difficulty in arranging seemingly straightforward conversations with aquariums was at fundamental odds with the organizations’ purported missions as educational beacons.

I recalled Brendan Pisarki’s invocation of ‘education,’ and began to notice the sentiment reiterated throughout the literature on shark captivity. In one paper, authors note that, “Aquariums keeping sharks are in a unique position to influence local, regional, and international attitudes and policies by acting as both educational and research facilities.”¹⁴ The husbandry manual touts, “Through entertaining yet educational experiences at public aquariums, guests are inspired to support conservation efforts for the inhabitants of the ocean… Aquariums are places of learning where we must inspire and motivate our visitors to care about the natural world.”¹⁰ These claims are compelling, and they sort of do make intuitive sense. One visits an aquarium, sees and learns about sharks, and must therefore feel somewhat inspired to care more about them, right? In fact, a 2007 study conducted by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA)¹⁵ was “widely heralded as the first direct evidence that visits to zoos and aquariums produce long-term positive effects on people’s attitudes toward other animals.”¹⁶

Three years later, though, several well-known scientists (including Dr. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist, cetacean expert, and outspoken animal advocate) conducted a critical evaluation of the AZA study.¹⁶ They found that the investigation had at least six major threats to methodological validity that undermine the paper’s claims. In fact, the authors conclude, “There remains no compelling evidence for the claim that zoos and aquariums promote attitude change, education, or interest in conservation in Visitors.” The paper’s “numerous methodological weaknesses render their findings difficult or even impossible to interpret.” The charismatic claims made on zoo and aquarium websites “greatly outstrip their methodologically limited findings.”

In Against Zoos, the philosopher Dale Jamieson comes to a similar conclusion. Though he speaks specifically with regard to zoos, his sentiments might be applicable to aquariums as well. He references research that indicates zoo-goers are “much less knowledgeable about animals than backpackers, hunters, fishermen, and others who claim an interest in animals, and only slightly more knowledgeable than those who claim no interest in animals at all.”¹⁷ He poses a compelling question: “Couldn’t most of the educational benefits… be obtained by presenting films, slides, lectures, and so forth?” Put another way, is it absolutely essential to education that these animals be held captive?

There is a case to be made on behalf of aquariums that working with and researching captive sharks enhances global conservation efforts. After all, “Aquarium researchers working with numerous shark species have gathered data on growth, age, fecundity, sexual maturation, reproductive behaviour, longevity, sensory acuity, physiology, the effects of water quality, genetics, cognitive ability and learning, and veterinary practices.”¹⁴ The 2001 symposium that generated the husbandry manual was organized, in part, to “assist with recovery and protection of threatened species, improve captive husbandry practices, create access to better conservation and research projects, and help cement the aquarium industry as a preeminent leader in shark conservation.”¹³

Curiously, though, a passage in that same manual points out that, “Relatively little information on reproduction in captive elasmobranchs has been published” and simply says that detailed research “should” be collected and disseminated via peer-reviewed publications.¹³ A recent study found that, since 1970, “the global abundance of oceanic sharks and rays has declined 71% owing to an 18-fold increase in relative fishing pressure.”¹⁸ In short, we are fishing- and finning- sharks to the brink of extinction. While a rigorous investigation into the matter is warranted, at first blush I struggled to draw a firm connection between understanding the science of shark reproduction and shark conservation itself. These creatures are not, say, pandas, animals on the verge of extinction precisely because they refuse to mate. The issue is not that sharks need to breed more in order to survive extinction; it’s that human beings need to stop killing them. Perhaps not coincidentally, another article on shark reproduction, also geared towards aquarists and not the scientific community, describes aquariums as “one of the most popular and profitable public entertainment enterprises,” noting that “sharks are invariably one of their most popular and prized exhibits.”¹⁹

Twenty-four hours passed and I still hadn’t heard from Merry Camhi, so I politely followed up. I also emailed Hans Walters again, recalling that Merry had twice indicated he was flexible on timing. Within minutes, Hans responded with a concise note: “I received your email and had email communication with Merry Camhi as well. I will be unable to assist you with your paper. I hope you are able to find Others who can give you informed, balanced, and fact-based information for your study.”²⁰ I still haven’t heard back from Merry.

I suppose it’s natural for me to feel a sense of unease over this seemingly cagey behavior. Something strange is going on with these aquariums, and a good part of me wants to vilify them. After all, everyone loves a good villain. Good, evil- narratives are just easier that way, to read and to write. I still don’t necessarily feel this is the time to make such a judgment, though. I simply don’t have enough direct evidence. And, in fact, in a pleasantly surprising twist, I just received a reply from Lisa Hoopes at the Georgia Aquarium. After a week of back-and-forth (mostly forth), she has forwarded my message along to Dr. Alistair Dove, the Vice President of Science and Education at the Georgia Aquarium and their resident whale shark expert.¹¹ Finally, the closure I’m looking for about Trixie and her captivity is in sight. I know I should be excited, and grateful, but for some reason I’m not. I’m losing interest in hearing what the aquariums have to say. In a way, I feel like I already have all I need to know about Trixie.

In 2006, she was hoisted in a high-tech life-support system, loaded onto a specially outfitted B747 freighter aircraft in Taiwan and flown more than 8,000 miles to Atlanta, where she lived until her death in 2020.²¹ Trixie was already fifteen feet long when she arrived.²² Baby whale sharks measure approximately twenty inches, and while little is known about the full extent of whale shark longevity, research into the correlation between their size and age indicates it is reasonable to estimate that she had at least several years of life behind her- perhaps a decade, or even more- when she was brought to live in a giant tank at an aquarium in a landlocked city in a country far from the places she knew.²³ ²⁴ Years of life, entirely unseen and forever unknown. Perhaps I should be less concerned about who knew what about Trixie, and more about what Trixie knew.

A century ago, back in Sydney, Australia, the arm regurgitated by that massive tiger shark was taken to autopsy. A coroner, along with several local shark experts, concluded that the arm had been severed by a knife, and not the jaws of a tiger shark.1 The shark was nonetheless killed and butchered. No other human remains were discovered. That, seemingly, spelled the end of the shark’s story. The human thread continued, of course, as it always does- it was a murder mystery, after all, and great fodder for a fun headline.

As a boy, when I first came across the story of the “shark arm murder,” as it came to be known, I was captivated by the intrigue of it all. I recently read more about it, though, and while it does indeed constitute a unique little story, the ultimate conclusion amounted to little more than a simple tale of organized criminals and petty disputes. Every plot point from the tiger shark onward fizzled out anticlimactically. What stuck with me was not the arm, but that unfortunate animal.

The thought of that creature, blessed by hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary perfecting, flailing about and vomiting in a pool that could barely accommodate its size and basic needs, let alone its natural tendencies, pierced my imagination. A distinct air of tragic morbidity infuses the tale. The shark was plucked from the steady current of its own life and subverted by a human narrative. I care far less about who was murdered, and more about why the shark had to be taken into captivity to begin with. Sharks are wide-ranging, complex organisms, and I find something inherently tragic about denying an animal the opportunity to fulfill its true nature. Whale sharks swimming over open ocean water of abyssal depths have been known to exhibit deep-diving behavior, plunging in excess of 1,500 meters in depth, through changes in pressure and temperature, time and space, that I will never fathom.²¹ The Ocean Voyager Exhibit tank, in which Trixie was held, is about thirty feet deep and climate-controlled. It was built by the Home Depot.²⁵

Why do aquariums place sharks on display? And why do some people show signs of defensiveness when prodded about their giant fish tanks? What does this tell us about sharks, and about ourselves, and how might we reconcile those answers with the currently imperiled state of global shark populations? These are, of course, human questions. Murder mysteries and villains, money and entertainment- these are human stories. But that’s not this story. This is the story of a shark, and it doesn’t belong to us.


1. Ellis, Richard. The Book of Sharks. Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.

2. Georgia Aquarium. Announcement of Trixie the whale shark’s death. Facebook, November 27, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/GeorgiaAquarium/posts/we-are-saddened-to-say-our-largest-female-whale-shark-trixie-passed-away-today-n/10158426162583124/. Accessed May 1, 2021.

3. Williams, David. “Trixie the whale shark dies at the Georgia Aquarium.” CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/28/us/georgia-aquarium-whale-shark-death-scn-trnd/index.html. Accessed May 1, 2021.

4. Associated Press. “‘We will miss you, Trixie’: Georgia Aquarium’s largest female whale shark dies.” USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/11/28/trixie-georgia-aquariums-largest-female-whale-shark-dies-dies/6453518002/. Accessed May 1, 2021.

5. Goodman, Brenda. “Georgia Aquarium Mourns Another of Its Whale Sharks.” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/14/us/14shark.html?smid=url-share. Accessed May 1, 2021.

6. Odum, Charles. “Necropsy held Friday for Georgia Aquariums whale shark.” Statesboro Herald, https://www.statesboroherald.com/local/necropsy-held-friday-for-georgia-aquariums-whale-shark/. Accessed May 2, 2021.

7. Shiffman, David. “Ethical Debate: Captive whale sharks.” Southern Fried Science. https://www.southernfriedscience.com/ethical-debate-captive-whale-sharks/. Accessed May 1, 2021.

8. Brendan Pisarski, email message to author, April 23, 2021.

9. Wildlife Conservation Society, North America. Staff Page. https://northamerica.wcs.org/about-us/staff/projectid/-1/currentpage/5.aspx. Accessed May 3, 2021.

10. Smith, Mark; Warmolts, Doug; Thony, Dennis and Robert Hueter, editors. Elasmobranch Husbandry Manual: Captive Care of Sharks, Rays, and their Relatives. Special Publication of the Ohio Biological Survey, Inc. 2004.

11. Lisa Hoopes, email thread with author. Multiple dates.

12. Merry Camhi, email thread with author. Multiple dates.

13. Additional Conference Papers from: The Elasmobranch Husbandry Symposium, October 3–7, 2001, Orlando, FL, USA. Drum and Croaker. 2004.

14. Grassmann, M., McNeil, B., Warton, J. “Sharks in Captivity: The Role of Husbandry, Breeding, Education, and Citizen Science in Shark Conservation.” Advances in Marine Biology, Volume 78, 2017.

15. Falk, J. H., Reinhard, E. M., Vernon, C. L., Bronnenkant, K., Deans, N. L., Heimlich, J. E. “Why zoos & aquariums matter: Assessing the impact of a visit to a zoo or aquarium.” Association of Zoos & Aquariums, 2007.

16. Marino, L. Lilienfeld, S.O., Malamud, R., Nobis, N., Broglio, R. “Do Zoos and Aquariums Promote Attitude Change in Visitors? A Critical Evaluation of the American Zoo and Aquarium Study.” Society and Animals, 126–138, 2010.

17. Jamieson, D. Against zoos. In P. Singer (Ed.), In defense of animals (pp. 108–117). Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986.

18. Pacoureau, N., Rigby, C.L., Kyne, P.M., Sherley, R.B., Winker, H., Carlson, J.K., Fordham, S. V., Barreto, R., Fernando, D., Francis, M.P., Jabado, R.W., Herman, K.B., Liu, K., Marshall, A.D., Pollom, R.A., Romanov, E.V., Simpfendorfer, C.A., Yin, J.S., Kindsvater, H.K., Dulvy, N.K. “Half a century of global decline in oceanic sharks and rays.” Nature, Vol. 589, 2021.

19. Castro, J.I. “A primer on shark reproduction for aquarists.” Reproduction of Marine Life, Birth of New Life! Investigating the Mysteries of Reproduction, 52–69, 2013.

20. Walters, Hans. Email thread with author. April 30, 2021.

21. Dove, A.D.M., Cocol, C., Binder, T., Schreiber, C., Davis, R., Carlson, B., Claus, T.M. “Acquisition, Husbandry, And Veterinary Care Of Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus Smith 1828) In An Aquarium Setting.” In: Health and Diseases of Aquatic Organisms: Bilateral Perspectives (R. Cipriano and I. Schelkunov eds). Proceedings of the 3rd US/Russian Bilateral Exchange on Aquatic Animal Health. MSU Press: East Lansing Michigan, 251–258, 2011.

22. Tharpe, Jim. “Egging on the whale sharks.” Chicago Tribune. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2006-06-09-0606090107-story.html. Accessed May 1, 2021.

23. “Whale Shark.” Oceana.org. https://oceana.org/marine-life/sharks-rays/whale-shark#:~:text=As%20opposed%20to%20the%20other,20%20inches%2F45%20cm. Accessed May 1, 2021.

24. Perry C.T., Figueiredo, J., Vaudo J.J., Hancock, J., Rees, R., Shivji, M. “Comparing length-measurement methods and estimating growth parameters of free-swimming whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) near the South Ari Atoll, Maldives.” Marine and Freshwater Research 69, 1487–1495, 2018.

25. The Georgia Aquarium. Ocean Voyager Built By The Home Depot. https://www.georgiaaquarium.org/gallery/ocean-voyager/. Accessed May 4, 2021.

Cover image by Christian Garcia on Unsplash.