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How do fish get to aquariums? In a new series called #HowItWorks, we find out.

How it works: Transporting fish to aquariums

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    Andrea Bagley
    Digital Reporter

    Friday, December 6, 2013, 7:55 AM -

    There are thousands of aquariums around the world that attract thousands of visitors each year.
    Getting an up close look at the magic under water leaves many people intrigued about how it all works.

    The work involved carries with it a lot of responsibility as facilities bring wild animals to an artificial environment.


    The first order of business-- deciding what animal you want to have and defending your reason for having it.

    "So the very first thing you want to do is have a plan. What's the purpose of having the animal? How's it going to serve the greater good of that population of animals?," says Thom Demas of the Tennessee Aquarium. "And when you have a definitive answer you can trust, that I can educate people and teach them about conservation and this animal plays a big role in that because of "X," then you know that you have a quality idea, a good plan and a good animal to work with and then it's time to move forward." 

    Ripley's Aquarium

    Ripley's Aquarium


    With a plan in place, Demas says it's important to then distinguish the natural habitat of the animal and the requirements needed for the fish to thrive. 

    "What's their natural history? How much sunlight do they need? Are they nocturnal? What's their lifestyle and how am I going to mimic nature to the absolute best of my ability?" 

    Considering the status of the animal and making sure their welfare is protected is crucial as well. 


    "So all those decisions have to be made, the exhibit concept has to be decided on and what's in the best interest of the animal and then from that point you go into planning, actual exhibit design, life support design and either build the new exhibit or retrofit the old exhibit," Demas explains. "So depending on the animal and the scope of the project, if I just wanted a new fish for an existing tank, it could be 30 to 60 days to get the animal in house." 

    Ripley's Aquarium

    Ripley's Aquarium


    Following arrival, the fish goes into a 30 day quarantine to ensure they're not carrying any disease process with them.

    "In that quarantine time, we try to keep that exhibit pretty sterile, think of it like being in a hospital. We want to be able to keep it immaculate, super clean, and make sure we're treating any possible disease to the best interest of the fish," Demas says.

    Once that quarantine period is over, they are placed into a tank with all the natural habitat they may encounter in the wild. 

    "Anything to give them an enriching life inside that tank that they may experience in the wild," says Demas. 

    Ripley's Aquarium

    Ripley's Aquarium


    But how do the fish physically arrive at an aquarium, especially the larger species like sharks? 

    "We brought a very large fish from California here a number of years ago and we had a company work with us to help us make that transport safely for the fish and one of their representatives oversaw the packing of the animal, flew on the flight with it and was there to bring it through customs and help us bring it back to our facility."

    Demas adds that not all animals need a person to accompany it during transport and the packing can vary depending on the fish.

    "So jellyfish for example are packed in a container with zero air. That way the water can't slosh with the air water interface and damage the jellies. They're packed in a box and typically travel on an airline, especially if they're coming from a different part of the world. Then it has to go through customs and then in our case, we would transport it from the airport here to the aquarium." 


    There's also a sharing process involved to help relieve any pressure from collecting certain species from the wild. 

    "For example, with our sea horses. We produce a lot of sea horse offspring here and we make those juveniles available to other aquariums or zoos that need sea horses for their exhibits," Demas explains "So that's one way we can help to take any pressure off collecting them from the wild or anything like that and still provide a very charasmatic animal that helps us get the message out in terms of why it's important to protect the sea horses." 

    While there's not always written agreements involved, everyone is on the same page about sharing the animals. 

    "Most people in this business are in it to help educate the public and to do their very best for the animals we take care of and working together is almost a requirement to be able to do that," adds Demas. 

    Ripley's Aquarium

    Ripley's Aquarium

    Be sure to check back tomorrow to find out how aquariums prevent diseases and the process involved for keeping the fish fed.

    (The aquarium footage shown in the video above comes from Ripley's Aquarium)

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