A total of 180 animals died at the National Aquarium of Ireland in Galway during a period of less than 10 months in 2018, including a number of species considered to be at risk of extinction.
All but one of the aquarium’s 19 Atlantic cod were wiped out by disease during the period. The fish has “vulnerable” status on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of threatened species.
Some 13 of the facility’s 54 thornback rays, which are listed as a near-threatened species, also died. A longsnout seahorse, which is another near-threatened species, was also among the 180 mortalities.
The popular attraction, which opened as Galway Atlantaquaria in 1999, acquired two snake pipefish in 2018 but both of these died within 10 months of their arrival at the aquarium.
An octopus also died shortly after its acquisition during the same period. Some 12 of the aquarium’s 14 red starfish perished after it acquired 10 of species, while both of its African clawed frogs also died.
The deaths represent a mortality rate of almost 15 percent during the period from January 1, 2018 until October 18, 2018 based on its opening population of 1,239 animals.
It acquired 217 new animals during that period. There were 169 dispositions and no recorded births, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act. The aquarium had a population of 1,107 on October 18, 2018.
Officials from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht who inspected the facility in October 2018 noted in their report that it was maintained “to a very high standard” and delivers an “excellent” educational experience for visitors.
Liam J Twomey, director of the National Aquarium of Ireland, said that animal welfare is of “utmost importance” to the facility, and that the majority of mortalities were due to “natural causes from ‘old age’”.
“Many aquatic species have a relatively short lifespan in the wild and in the aquarium. Likewise, native octopus, seahorse and pipefish naturally live for a couple of years and can be a year old when they arrive at the aquarium,” he said.
Mr Twomey said that disease was to blame for the deaths of the Atlantic cod in 2018. “Thankfully, our quarantine protocol ensured that the disease was contained,” he added.
“A similar situation arose with a batch of starfish donated by a fisherman. We suspect that the animals were damaged in the netting process, which in turn led to the stock being unsuitable for exhibit and their subsequent deaths fully accounted for.”