Fish Encounters

Aquariums and their Veterinarians in a Rapidly Changing World


  • Irus Braverman University at Buffalo Author



The extensive body of social science and humanities scholarship on zoos rarely discusses aquariums. Despite their independent historical trajectory and unique characteristics and challenges, aquariums are typically considered the younger sister to the more established terrestrial zoo institutions. This article is an initial exploration of modern public aquariums through the eyes of these institutions’ veterinarians, a small but rapidly growing, and quite influential, professional cohort. Drawing on in-depth interviews with a handful of aquarium veterinarians in various sitesincluding the United States, Canada, Israel, Portugal, Denmark, and Germanythe article documents some of the everyday challenges that these medical practitioners face when attempting to manage the health and wellbeing of captive marine animals. Their feet in several worlds, aquarium veterinarians must balance their medical training and animal welfare sensibilities with the specific nature of the aquatic animals under their care, and also with the understanding of their evolving responsibilities toward ocean conservation. For these professionals, the rights-welfare-conservation approaches to animal care are not abstract ideas but rather real-life situations that dictate their actual modes of practice in caring for marine animals. This can only be an initial study and thus highlights the need for additional scholarly work in the social sciences and humanities on aquariums, their wet forms of life, and the challengesas well as the opportunitiesthat their management poses to the human caretakers of this space. This scholarly need is especially acute in light of the declining state of extant species and ecosystems in the world’s seas. Public aquariums and their veterinarians will arguably perform increasingly important roles in the conservation of our blue planet.


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Author Biography

  • Irus Braverman, University at Buffalo

    Irus Braverman is professor of law and adjunct professor in geography at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. Her books include Planted Flags: Trees, Land, and Law in Israel/Palestine (2009), Zooland: The Institution of Captivity (2012) and Wild Life: The Institution of Nature (2015). Her latest book, Coral Whisperers: Scientists on the Brink (2018), draws on interviews with one hundred coral scientists to explore the emotional and professional challenges facing these scientists in today’s political and physical climate. Her coedited collection Blue Legalities: The Life and Laws of the Sea is forthcoming with Duke University Press (January 2020). Braverman is currently working on a new book, entitled Zoo Veterinarians Between Welfare and Conservation (forthcoming, Routledge).







How to Cite

“Fish Encounters: Aquariums and Their Veterinarians in a Rapidly Changing World”. 2019. Humanimalia 11 (1): 1-29.