Invasive Species at the Aquarium

  • Asian carp are one of the invasive species featured in the exhibits in your local museums. (Photo courtesy of USFWS)

Big, public aquariums spend a lot of money to make fish look like they’re at home in the wild. But lately some aquariums are showing fish that are out of place. The GLRC’s Shawn Allee looks at one aquarium’s effort to give them the spotlight, too:

Transcript

Big, public aquariums spend a lot of money to make fish look like
they’re at home in the wild, but lately some aquariums are showing fish
that are out of place. The GLRC’s Shawn Allee looks at one aquarium’s
effort to give them the spotlight, too:


The federal government’s spending millions to keep Asian Carp out of
the Great Lakes. Biologists worry Asian Carp could devastate the lakes’
ecosystem. Recently, though, several carp were brought within sight of
the Great Lakes, and biologists are happy about it.


Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is on the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s
holding an exhibit of Asian Carp and other alien invasive species.


Curator Kurt Hettinger captured the aquarium’s carp during a trip on an
Illinois river.


“They’re literally jumping, sometimes over the bow of the boat,
sometimes smacking into the side of the boat. I just looked behind me
and was amazed to see all these fish jumping in the wake of the boat, and
to this day, I’m still stunned by this.”


And Hettinger’s more than just stunned. He’s worried.


Asian Carp are an invasive species, basically … pests that crowd out
native fish, and that river where he caught them hooks up to Lake
Michigan.


Again, Asian carp haven’t made it to the Great Lakes, but more than one
hundred and sixty other invasive species have arrived and are breeding
quickly.


One example’s the zebra mussel. At first, scientists worried about how
much money it could cost us. Zebra mussels multiply so fast they can
block pipes that carry cooling water to power plants. But now, we know
the zebra mussel’s disrupting the lakes’ natural food chain.


In other words, invasive species are a huge economic and ecological
nuisance. That’s why the Shedd Aquarium started the exhibit.


“The public I think has seen enough stories about the damages and the
spread and the harmfulness, but those stories are not very often coupled
with solutions.”


That’s ecologist David Lodge. He says the exhibit tries to show how
people spread these species around. Lodge points to one exhibit tank. It
looks like a typical backyard water garden. It’s decked out with a small
fishpond, water lilies, even a little fountain shaped like an angel. It looks
pretty innocent, but Lodge says plants and fish you buy for your own
water garden could be invasive species.


“All those plants and animals that are put outside, then have an
opportunity to spread. Now, it doesn’t happen very often, but with the
number of water gardens, it happens enough so that they are a serious
threat to the spread of species.”


Birds or even a quick flood could move seeds or minnows from your
garden to a nearby lake or river.


The Shedd Aquarium’s not alone in spotlighting invasive species.
Several aquariums and science museums are also getting on board. For example one in
Florida shows how invasive species have infested the Everglades.


Shedd curator George Parsons went far and wide for inspiration.


“I was in Japan last year when we were planning this, and I just
happened to stumble across one of their aquariums and they had an
invasive species exhibit, except that they were talking about large mouth
bass and blue gill. You know, something that is our natives. So, it was
kind of ironic to see that out there. It was kind of neat.”


Like us, the Japanese take invasive species seriously. Back in 1999 the
humble Midwestern Blue Gill created a national uproar. Turns out, they
had taken over ponds throughout the Emperor’s palace, and how did the
bluegill get to Japan?


Probably as a gift from a former Chicago mayor. Apparently, the mayor
thought blue gill might make nice sport fishing in Japan. It was an
innocent mistake, but it’s just the kind of mishap biologists want all of us
to avoid from now on.


For the GLRC, I’m Shawn Allee.

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