Officials from the Georgia Aquarium deny any harm is done to the animals during large events like the Atlanta Pride Kickoff Party.
“The Aquarium aggressively protects animals from any sound that exceeds [noise] limits,” Scott Higley, vice president of marketing and communications of the Georgia Aquarium, recently told GA Voice.
Noise levels inside of the aquarium are continuously monitored, Higley said, to ensure that they are within acceptable range.
“Volume is monitored by professional sound engineers throughout every large event, as it was for last year’s Pride party. Our animal care experts (with a combined hundreds of years of experience in caring for aquatic animals) always place the health and well-being of our animals first,” Higley said.
Cooke, Pride managing director, told GA Voice by phone this week that the Pride Committee will decide after the festival whether to hold future events at the Aquarium.
“Just like with any of the events we do, we meet with people to decide what went well and what didn’t work well. Then we move forward in planning for the upcoming year. In November, we’ll talk about moving forward,” Cooke said.
Cooke acknowledged that others have also written the APC urging the festival to find a new home for the kickoff bash, but said the organization is moving forward with the Oct. 12 event.
Glen Paul Freedman, Atlanta Pride Committee board chair, called the party an “excellent success” and praised the aquarium for its work with the community over the last several years.
“We’ll certainly look at the Georgia Aquarium,” Freedman said of future plans. “Our continued partnership with them has been an excellent success. It’s a very good community partnership for both the community and for the Atlanta Pride Committee.”
The event draws some 3,000 people to the Georgia Aquarium. A portion of each ticket sold goes to the Atlanta Pride Committee. Freedman declined to state the exact percentage handed over to Atlanta Pride, citing sponsorship confidentiality.
Bottom line: Harmful to the animals?
Two experts contacted by GA Voice disagreed on whether events like the Atlanta Pride party hurt animals at the aquarium.
Dr. Lori Marino, senior lecturer in neuroscience and behavioral biology at Emory University, has been studying marine mammals for more than 20 years. Marino told GA Voice that the animals housed inside the aquarium are most definitely negatively affected by their captivity.
“There is no way that the animals are not effected by the sound, knowing how sensitive they are. There’s a bigger issue here that has to do with whether or not the LGBT community should be celebrating exploitation,” Marino said.
Marino called the effect of captivity on marine mammals “devastating” and said they often exhibit behavioral and health problems.
“There is just a heap of scientific evidence that shows they cannot thrive in captivity. They die earlier, exhibit more stress related diseases and other behavioral problems,” she said.
While Marino said that some research conducted on animals in captivity has been beneficial in the past, the need for such experiments has long passed. The most ground-breaking studies in marine mammals have occurred in the wild, Marino said.
“It’s a show. It’s an entertainment venue. Nothing more. Although they’re trying to make themselves into something greater than that, the emperor has no clothes. There’s no education, there’s no conservation, no research on cognition. No one expects to be educated or to have any value above and beyond entertainment,” she said.
Dr. Paul Nachtigall, professor of Zoology and Psychology at the University of Hawaii, has studied how noise affects marine mammals in captivity. In contrast to Marino, Nachtigall said in a recent interview that it is highly unlikely that the noise generated by the party has any effect on the animals inside the tanks.
“Let’s talk about humans. What does excessive noise do to humans?” Nachtigall postulated.
“The first thing you’ll experience is a temporary threshold shift. If you went to a Grateful Dead concert and sat in front of the speakers for an hour, you’ll experience a threshold shift. If you have too much for too long, you lose hearing. We’ve looked at temporary threshold shifts with animals, as well,” he said. “It takes much more to produce threshold shift in whales than humans.”
Nachtigall guessed that everyone attending the party would permanently lose hearing before the Beluga whales would be affected by a threshold shift.
“The physics of producing sound loud enough to produce a temporary threshold shift is not easy. You’d have to have speakers in the water,” he said.
Because the speakers are inside the aquarium, not inside the tanks, Nachtigall said he believes that the animals would be largely unaffected thanks to the density of the water and the plexiglass viewing windows, which are more than a foot thick.
Most of the sound waves produced by the music and ambient noise would simply bounce off the windows or off the water.
But how loud would the party need to be to physically harm the animals?
“People standing in the crowd would be completely deaf. It takes 160 decibels (dB) under the water to produce a threshold shift. dB in the air is not the same as in the water. They are two different things. But they’re not on the same scale. The thing is, to produce 160 dB under the water, I don’t even know how much in the air it would take, but it’s tremendous.”
In comparison, 160 dB in the air is quite literally off the charts with regard to humans, according to the Hearing Health Foundation. 140 dB is when immediate permanent hearing loss begins. Noise levels during the typical party can reach 100 or even 120 decibels if truly boisterous. Limited exposure at those levels is recommended by the HHF.
But even those levels, Nactigall said, would have little, if any, lasting impact on the animals inside the tanks.
“They’re just wrong,” Nactigall said of the animal rights activists’ concerns. “Someone’s got to say you’re wrong. Have your party.”
Top photo: Atlata Pride’s annual Kickoff Bash draws some 3,000 people to the Georgia Aquarium each year. (Photo by Brent Corcoran/RNZ Photography)