The Portland Aquarium has logged more than 200 deaths of marine animals since the beginning of the spring. The deaths occurred from starvation, infection, high temperatures, animal-on-animal attacks, and other unknown causes as stated in a death log that the Oregonian obtained. Lost sea life included bamboo sharks, sea horses, garden eels, sea stars, crabs, and dozens of fish.
Spokeswoman for the Oregon Humane Society acknowledged that they were investigating, but declined giving any specifics in the case.
The death log entries were dated between Feb 18 to May 16. Aquarium owners don’t deny that the facility has gone without regular veterinary services. The aquarium’s former vet said that even when he was under contract, the facility failed to properly quarantine new arrivals and routinely delayed emergency treatment to save money.
“I feel those animals were subject to undue pain and suffering to save money,” Mike Corcoran, an exotic animal veterinarian that left the Aquarium in February over animal welfare.
Corcoran states he recommended quarantine procedures again and again that were never used.
The death log was turned over to the Oregonian by an aquarium employee who left over concerns that the deaths were “excessive”.
The owner of The Portland Aquarium, Vince Covino, has declined interview requests, but answered questions by email. He stated that the aquarium’s death toll is the same as what other aquariums experience. He went on to say, “And in many cases, we believe we have done better,” and “We spare no expense in ensuring our animals have the best health care possible.” Covino then tried to minimize the number by explaining that there are 10,000 animals at the Portland Aquarium of over 3,000 species, and 200 deaths only represents and 8% loss.
On the contrary, Chris Spaulding, director of the aquarium science program and Oregon Coast Community College says that aquariums don’t share mortality rates. That would make it difficult for Covino to know the industry standard, because one hasn’t been set.
Caroline Emch0Wei, a 25-year-old marine biologist who volunteered for the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport before coming to the Portland Aquarium stated, “But there were so many deaths that were straight up preventable.” She left the aquarium shortly after Corcoran for the same reasons.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, which is significantly larger estimates that it houses 15,000 animals of over 250 species and their mortality rate is “significantly less than one percent.”
Vince and Ammon Covino, two brothers who opened an aquarium in Boise, Idaho in 2011 built The Portland Aquarium without degrees in marine biology.
The U.S. Department of agriculture oversees most animal exhibitors, however there is an exception for cold-blooded animals such as sea life. The Portland Aquarium does not have a marine aquarium license, does not have inspections, and is not accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Ammon Covino was arrested in Boise in Feb on one count of conspiracy and four counts of unlawful sale or purchase of marine animals. He is accused in Florida of buying four eagle rays and two lemon sharks without the permits needed for such a purpose, then transferring them to the Boise aquarium.
The grand jury indictment also alleges that he tried to illegally purchase lemon sharks for the Portland Aquarium as well while the facility was under construction. He faces up to five years in prison on each count.
This was the last straw for Emch-Wei, and she left the Portland Aquarium.
Vince Covino writes off the accusations against him as complaints from disgruntled employees who don’t know enough about marine life to understand Portland Aquarium operations.
Steve Blair, a 25-year veteran with marine aquariums, including being curator of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, directed the installation of the Portland Aquarium, but left just days before its opening. He declined to discuss the details of his departure due to a confidentiality agreement he signed with Covino.
Corcoran, the vet who left the aquarium, explained it as Blair and Covino arguing about animal safety. Covino says Blair just wasn’t the right fit.
Shane Dietz, ex Petco employee with 20 years of experience setting up and maintaining aquarium tanks has taken Blair’s place. His explanation for the deaths is that 98% of the deaths of marine life are caused by transportation, and they can’t do anything about it, and places the blame on the distance animals have to be shipped.
He also said that they obtain crabs and cold water fish from fish markets because they don’t have a permit from Oregon Fish and Wildlife. Those animals are caught as food and mistreated, and sometimes the Aquarium just can’t bring them back from the brink of death.
Most aquariums quarantine new arrivals for no less than 20 days to allow recovery from stress of shipping and to protect current animals from disease.
Both Corcoran and another former Portland Aquarium biologist, Lisa Van Etten, blame lack of quarantine for many of the deaths.
Van Etten said that they would lose an entire aquarium after a new animal was introduced because they didn’t quarantine it.
Dietz argued that new animals are quarantined for 35 days. He said the quarantine log provided to the Oregonian doesn’t show the whole picture because there are multiple quarantine logs for multiple quarantine systems.
Corcoran explains that when he would be called in for an emergency, he would find animals that had been suffering for days with life threatening conditions. When asked why he wasn’t called sooner, the answer was always money.