Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
 
 
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New Animal Care Center

The highest priority of any zoo or aquarium is to provide the greatest level of care possible for the animals. Since opening our doors, there have been improvements in every aspect of live-animal care. Water quality is much better as we have upgraded many components of our life-support and control systems. Thirty years ago we had two main food items to feed the marine life. Now, we have eight items, plus five live foods (four of which are grown at CMA) and vitamin supplements. Purina even makes a food formulated specifically for marine fish. These improvements have enabled us to display a large and diverse group of marine life.

As our live collection continued to grow, improvements in veterinary medicine also grew. Antibiotics, antifungal medicine and treatments for specific parasites are now available. We've been able to cure protected sea horses and endangered white abalone (one of only two species of marine invertebrates on the Federal Endangered list) from otherwise fatal bacterial infections. It was becoming clear we needed to expand our animal care facilities.

In the past few years, the California Department of Fish and Game, the agency issuing our collecting permits, has limited both the number of animals and the species we can collect. We are also about to see a reduction in available collecting sites. The Marine Life Protection Act (1999) directs the Department of Fish and Game to designate a series of areas along the coast and Channel Islands to halt or reduce fishing and collecting to protect marine life. The areas in Southern California that will be closed to collecting will be determined perhaps as soon as the end of the year. This means even more need for an Animal Care Center (ACC).

The Aquarium is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Only zoos and aquariums that meet the highest standards can become members. To meet these standards CMA needed to provide a dedicated area with all the diagnostic tools to treat compromised fish and invertebrates. We also needed to have a licensed veterinarian oversee our collection and offer advice and training. We are extremely fortunate that the vet at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Dr. Lance Adams, agreed to guide us.

We determined that the future home of the Animal Care Center would be the Aquarists Lab. Unfortunately, the lab was not only an office for eight aquarists but also home to water-quality equipment, dive locker, storage for light bulbs, pvc fittings and dozens of other items we used every day. It took about a year to relocate the staff and supplies, but finally we had the space we needed and along with Dr. Adams, we began to design a much needed and anticipated ACC.

The first step was to remove all the walls so we could add dedicated electrical service for the pumps, chillers and a variety of other electrical needs within the room. No longer will an extra coffee pot added for an evening function trip a circuit breaker. The walls were rebuilt with drywall covered by marine plywood covered by plastic sheeting to make them waterproof. We removed a 20-foot section of the concrete floor to install a trench drain. The floor was coated with a non-skid epoxy coating. On the "wet" side of the Center the Exhibits Department fabricated a large, fiberglassed wet table. We now had 60 square feet of space to use with either isolation tanks for treating the sick fish and invertebrates, or adding system water for an indefinite period while the animal recovers.  A large 175-gallon treatment tank, with a separate life-support system, was added for treating larger fish or as a quarantine facility for newly captured specimens.

The "dry" side of the Center contains an area to perform necropsies so we can learn why a fish died. It is not uncommon for diseases or parasites to spread to other fish. Ascertaining the cause of death may help us quickly provide proper treatment to other fish displaying similar symptoms. Important diagnostic tools such as compound and dissecting microscopes with computer archiving capabilities enable us to not only diagnose potential problems quickly but also maintain an historical record. Also along the long expanse of new countertops and cabinets is a dedicated water-quality area. Excellent water quality is essential in maintaining a healthy and thriving living collection. Placing the water-quality area in the ACC will help us quickly determine if water quality is a factor in treating unhealthy fish.

We see the ACC as part of an evolutionary process, an ongoing commitment to our highest priority: to maintain the highest level of care possible to the animals that provide joy and wonder to our visitors. While we have taken an important step in fulfilling our commitment, we realize we still have a lot to learn.

Jeff Landesman, Chief Aquarist

Post Date: Thursday, February 10, 2011

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