Aquarium standards under scrutiny following BBC investigation

Richard Harrington By: Clare Fischer, Richard Harrington
Date posted: 8 March 2018

Figures obtained by the BBC through Freedom of Information requests, showed a total of 4,500 creatures of varying species died at eight Sea Life Centres in England in a single year from 2015 to 2016.

Sealife view
© A tarkun3 Photography Project

We would like to see a more robust set of record-keeping maintained by public aquariums to demonstrate that they give the specimens in their tanks care and attention as a matter of routine

Dr Chris Tuckett,
MCS Head of Programmes

MCS says that some of the data is a cause for concern, including those for sharks and rays, and that discrepancies between individual centres need to explained. At Great Yarmouth, for instance, rates were high compared to the rest of the Sea Life Centres at 21%, nearly double the average.

However, MCS says fish die in aquariums for a number of reasons (e.g. old age, poor husbandry, disease, congenital defects, predation, accidents), and the data given to the BBC only provided mortality figures, including for very short-lived species such as jellyfish. MCS says the figures do pose questions about the keeping of certain species, and highlight that they could indicate differences in attention to animal husbandry between the different Sea Life Centres.

Biologist, broadcaster and MCS Ocean Ambassador, Dr Ben Garrod, says mortality figures from a number of Sea Life centres, revealed in a BBC investigation, are not acceptable.

Dr Garrod told the BBC: “You wouldn’t go into hospital and expect a one-in-three chance of dying. You wouldn’t expect that in a zoo. I don’t think it is acceptable.”

Sea Life owner Merlin Entertainments told the BBC it does everything in its power to avoid mortalities. It said some losses at its Great Yarmouth centre in 2016 were due to a “technically complex” water problem and that different aquariums could not be compared “like for like”, because of the different natural life spans and different ages of the animals.

Dr Chris Tuckett, MCS Head of Programmes said: “The response we’ve seen from Sealife reassures us to some degree. In particular, the incidents of high mortality appear to be the result of unforeseen problems which the chain has taken steps to rectify. There are still questions over the keeping of some animals including endangered species and we would like to see a more robust set of record-keeping maintained by public aquariums to demonstrate that they give the specimens in their tanks care and attention as a matter of routine”.

MCS has accepted sponsorship for its Pocket Good Fish Guide from Sea Life, and has worked together with the chain in calling for better protection of UK seas. In the light of the BBC findings, Dr Tuckett says MCS will have further discussions with Sea Life if future collaboration is to be pursued.

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