The deaths of 200 animals in the nine months the Portland Aquarium has been open have raised a lot of questions about the quality of animal care there and are now being investigated by the Oregon Humane Society.
Between February 18 and May 16, a variety of species reportedly died from a number of causes, including starvation, infection, attacks, power losses and high temperatures in their enclosures. The cause of death for a large number of animals was listed as “stuck in drain,” according to a death log that was obtained by The Oregonian from a former employee.
Mike Corcoran, the veterinarian under contract with the aquarium, said his advice on care and proper quarantine procedures was not taken, which led him to quit. He called the death toll at the aquarium “excessive” and said that on weekly visits he would discover animals who had been left suffering for days at which point he was told that no one wanted to call him because of the costs of emergency visits.
“I feel those animals were subject to undue pain and suffering to save money,” he said.
He wasn’t alone in his observations either. Marine biologist Carolyn Emch-Wei also left as a result of ongoing problems.
“There is loss at aquariums; you can’t deny that,” she told the publication. “But there were so many deaths that were straight up preventable.”
The facility is run by two brothers, Ammon and Vince Covino, who deny any wrongdoing and claim they’re doing a fine job, despite their questionable track record with marine animals.
Ammon Covino, who is a co-founder of the Idaho Aquarium, was arrested just months ago along with its Director Christopher Conk after being accused of illegally buying and transporting rays and sharks who are federally protected under the Lacey act and were taken without a permit in Florida. The trial for this is set for next month and leaves the two facing facing 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Covino’s nephew Peter will also be getting sentenced for obstruction of justice after trying to get the business they made the purchase from to cancel their order and destroy all traces of their communication.
Neither of the brothers has an education or background in marine biology, but that doesn’t really matter thanks to legal loopholes. As the Oregonian explains, most animal exhibitors in the U.S. are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but there’s an exception for cold-blooded animals. This exception allows facilities like the Portland Aquarium to operate without a license, inspections or accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which provides standards for the care of captive animals.
Despite the problems they already have under their belt, the Covino brothers are also now working on building a third aquarium in Austin, Texas, that is scheduled to open this winter, but is already plagued with problems of its own. The city has already found multiple violations in the company’s plan and has given two notices for having some animals on site without proper documentation. The owners have also not yet obtained a permit for construction or submitted the proper paperwork.
Concerned members of the public in Texas are mobilizing and calling for a boycott. As for the Portland Aquarium, it’s not clear what action, if any, will be taken. A spokesperson for the Humane Society confirmed the investigation, but declined to make any further comments.
Meanwhile, we can all help animals like those suffering at the Portland Aquarium by passing on businesses that support the trade in captive animals for nothing more than profit.
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