Cultural Diversity / Attitudes

Attitudes toward Marine Wildlife: A Study of Culturally Diverse Focus Groups

Working Paper #6


Unna Lassiter and Jennifer R. Wolch

June 1999


This Sea Grant research project seeks to clarify the relationships between cultural diversity and attitudes toward marine animals. In order to do so, we convened five focus groups with low income inner city women of different ethnicity (African American, Latina, Chicana, Chinese, and Filipina women) in Los Angeles, California. Beyond a brief demographic survey, participants were asked about their interactions, knowledge and attitudes toward both animals in general, and marine animals in particular.

The groups differed in terms of age and education, but most recalled many interactions with marine animals both here and abroad. Many of these sea related activities played a prominent part in the women's childhood, especially as social activities -- whether it was going to the beach, or fishing and eating fish. Cultural context also appeared to play a large role in sea related practices, such as fishkeeping and aquaria visitation. This context was linked to knowledge of the marine environment: most knew more about the marine environment of their childhood (elsewhere for most of them) than about that of Southern California. Overall knowledge about animals in general and marine wildlife specifically was uneven, and to a large extent derived from traditional and seemingly gendered practices.

Attitudes toward marine wildlife were similar to those expressed about animals in general, with anthropocentric and to a lesser extent biocentric attitudes expressed. In two groups (African American and Filipina) justifications for particular attitudes were based on the rights of humans, and not unrelatedly to the defense of their own sociocultural practices. This is of particular significance for educators, museum and aquaria curators, and managers of other animal related organizations, who must redefine the contexts in which they present information about animals, lest their message be lost or misunderstood.

Keywords: Attitudes toward animals, Cross-cultural attitudes, Marine wildlife, Focus groups




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