Anaqalluataq (Good evening), there are many complications that can occur when having or managing a living collection.  So many of these kinds of complications can be very directly related to collection type specific problems/challenges however, I feel that there are two major challenges that all living collections have and those are: budget/funding stability and contingency plans. 

 Budget and funding stability are challenges that all museums face and impacts from those challenges are very impacting on living collections because it affects spaces that have to be designed for very particular conditions for very particular life-forms to be maintained in.  Most living collections do not have a margin of less than a of standard operations, so there are very strict budget needs for these institutions.  In addition to the high and strict budget needs, it seems like most of these collections might rely on activities like tourism for raising funds and this can lead to challenges with funding stability. 

 Due to COVID-19 over the summer the Alaska SeaLife center in Seward had to have a fundraising campaign in order to remain in operation, they were seeking 2 million dollars to stay afloat and thankfully have been able to stay open.  Living collections that rely on grants for funding might also find funding instability when and if funders change their minds or shift interests, this could lead to collections being left out and struggling to fill the gaps in funding.  Due to these kinds of circumstances, I feel that most living collections need to have active and evolving contingency plans and that in and of itself seems to be a challenge.

Due to the nature of living collections the truth is some form of life is at stake and if funding is  no longer available to fit the needs of the institution, how and what are the next steps in order to meet the needs of these living beings that are supported/tied to these institutions? Are their jobs that will be cut?  Are there specimens that will be sent to places with more stable funding? Are there volunteers willing to make things work?  There is a salmon hatchery in Sitka that was associated with the Sheldon Jackson College, when the college was closed in 2007 the fishery was run by a dedicated hatchery manager who volunteered for some time, at some point the hatchery became funded again and resumed with paid staff (I’m not sure of any more details then this, I was on campus when this occurred but was a youth.)  This is an example of what could be necessary when a living collection meets funding instability but also makes it clear that other plans must be in place in case of times of need.  Having partnering organizations or institutions and active plans with them could really make a difference when faced with uncertainty.  Living collections have the ability to change lives and house some of the most amazing forms of life on this planet but without stable funding and support plans for if or when that funding is no longer available they have the capacity to lose what make them so special, I hope that living collections can find ways to be ethical and stable institutions.


Q:  Are living collections ethical?

4 Thoughts to “Manik (Money) suli sivunniuġutigi (plan a course of action)”

  1. Michael Hubert

    great article. this question is a hard one.
    “Captivity” is defined as the condition of being imprisoned or confined. Zoos, aquariums and museums with living collections struggle with the negative connotations of that word even as they inspire conservation, provide education, and encourage the protection of the very animals that “captivity” imprisons. So I feel that there is a ethics to these museum , aquariums , and even botanical gardens. so I think that the things that were done in the past have changed. and we now think more about these things. we have seen it in the way sea world change the way that they deal with orcas. and we have see these places evolve with the time s that we live in today. but there is so much that goes into your question. one I will continue to think about.

  2. Tony Thompson

    Hi Erin! Great post! Are living collections ethical? This is certainly a loaded question and one to which my answer is constantly changing and evolving. Right now my answer is a resounding, “That depends.” It depends on the conditions in which the collection is kept. For example, zoos and aquaria and the conditions in which the animals are kept. Are they being fed the correct food and correct amount? Are their living conditions favorable? Do they have enough space? Is it clean? Are their social needs being met? etc. etc. etc. I think we also have to think about the world as a whole. Is the natural population being benefited by having captive specimens held in a collection? Or are they somehow harmed? I think these are questions of which those in charge of living collections need to constantly be aware and reevaluating.

  3. Barbara Long

    Are living collections ethical?
    Good Evening,

    This question is one I have asked as well. It involves a broad range of topics that fall within the realm of living collections.There are pros and cons. We could have a whole semester on examining numerous collections around the world. I believe that some are ethical. It depends on the practices of the entities who hold/contain these collections. There should be strict oversight, as well as regulations in place. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Angela Linn

    Great question Erin, and thank you for bringing up the issue with the Alaska SeaLife Center. This gem is another example of a unique facility in Alaska that combines educational activities for the public with research and rehabilitation. As Alaskans, we are so lucky to have a place like this in our state, and this year we were very close to losing it. Check out the video they posted to summarize the incredible response to their call for help:

    The ethical obligations to the living creatures being rehabilitated at places like the SeaLife Center and others extend beyond just providing a place for families and tourists to spend a day – and you’re right, the struggle to fund places like this continues. They stand in stark contrast to the zoos of the past, with animals held in cages for visitors to poke at. But “natural habitats” can only go so far and I too struggle with the cost-benefit of these facilities. While I treasure our family memories of visiting places like the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma and seeing our son’s eye light up when he spotted the meerkats waking from their naps, I also feel heartbreak to see their polar bears hiding in the shade on a hot summer afternoon that has me seeking a cool breeze and beverage. I think we can only continue to support the good ones and push for them to continue their conservation-based missions while pointing out those who don’t adhere to the highest level of ethics and standards of care.

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