Guest Blog kindly presented by Rory McAvinney & Noel Langan
Galway Atlantaquaria is over 20 years in business, opening in 1999. Over those 20 years, animal welfare has been a key part of running this beautiful aquarium and has helped us house many marine and freshwater species. From rehabilitating Loggerhead Turtles to housing European Bass that are as old as the aquarium. Without continuously improving our welfare management within the aquarium this would not have been possible.
Animal welfare is how well an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. This means we must think about animal welfare when we are designing a new exhibit and tailoring it to the needs of the animal we are going to house. An example is our Octopus tank, we provide rocks, seaweeds, dark areas, and bright areas to give them a variety of options in the exhibit. The only downside is that visitors often think the tank is empty when the octopus is so well hidden!
Another part of animal welfare that I feel we do well, is keeping animals in tanks that mimic their natural environment. For example, ensuring that our Rays have soft sand to bury themselves just like they would in the wild or our Conger Eels having huge pipes embedded into stand-alone walls as to mimic where they hide in the wild, such as man made stone fishing piers that we are accustomed to in the west of Ireland. These are just some of the examples, but each tank has been designed with this in mind.
This is also known as behavioural enrichment and provides the animals with appropriate challenges and feeding stimulation. It’s something that hasn’t been around for all that long, but we have become very conscious of this form of animal welfare over the last few years.
Very few enrichment ideas will work straight away and sometimes they take weeks and months to perfect or maybe won’t work at all. Lots of these ideas come from researching what other aquariums are doing or seeing an enrichment action in process during a visit to one of our BIAZA or EAZA colleagues.
Long Enrichment Video
An example of one of our most successful enrichment ideas came from attending a BIAZA National Aquarium Conference. We got chatting with one of the vendors at the event called Vitalis®, who make a wide range of fish foods for marine and freshwater fish. One of their products is called “Marine Grazer”, a compacted ring of algae. We use this to feed our Grey Mullet. The beauty of this product is that the fish must use their rough lips to break down the algae ring, which can take them hours to finish. This is a perfect example of feeding stimulation and mimics the feeding habits of Mullet in the wild.
Short video of Bull Huss (Scliorhinus stellaris) with enrichment toy
One of our latest enrichment ideas came from Noel, who is one of the aquarists on our team. He wanted to provide the Rays and Sharks in our ray pool with some feeding stimuli. How this was achieved, was by buying several dog toys in a local pet shop.
The idea was to get a toy that was big enough that none of the animals could swallow but also tough enough to withstand lots of biting and feeding behaviour. The toy selected was called a Kong® dog toy, designed for large dog breeds. This hollow cone-shaped toy is made of very strong rubber and is designed to let dogs chew without damaging their teeth or the toy.
The next step was trying to figure out how we get the Sharks and Rays to interact with it. The first trial was promising, and Noel chose to fill the hollow toy with Sprat. This worked, but he felt we could entice a better reaction if we made some changes. The food of choice was changed to Squid with a large chunk wedged into the toy, this made the Sharks and Rays interact and move and chew at the toy and kept them stimulated for at least 30 minutes. He decided he would try to change it up a little more, so squid was added again but this time small and large chunks were stuffed into the toy. This yielded the best result yet.
As the Sharks and Rays moved the toy around the tank, pieces of food would drop out and drop beside other Rays and Sharks, and in turn, created even more movement and activity.
Both enrichments mentioned are being carried out numerous times a week along with several other methodologies. Our team is always busy trying out and testing new ideas and methods to ensure the highest standards of animal welfare for all the animals in our care.
We hope you have enjoyed today's blog on animal welfare in the aquarium, don’t forget to join us for more interesting aquariums topics soon.
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