Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan teaches Lindsay Norton-Miller about aquatic animal health.
Ornamental fish are a billion dollar global industry, and the U.S. is the single largest importer of them. An estimated 10 million households in this country own pet fish.
For veterinarians practicing in urban areas, requests for fish care are fairly common, especially from koi owners. “Koi can be very valuable,” says Tim Miller-Morgan, Assistant Professor of Aquatic Animal Health in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “Show Koi can cost as much as $20,000 each, so ornamental fish are a viable addition to a veterinary practice.”
As clinical veterinarian at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, Dr. Miller-Morgan helps care for the center’s large collection of live fish and invertebrates. He also serves as clinical veterinarian for all aquatic animal facilities at OSU. Obviously, he wears many hats, and in 2010, that put him in an ideal position to spearhead the development of a an Aquarium Science degree program at Oregon Coast Community College (OCCC), the only programs of it’s kind in the nation.
Dr. Miller-Morgan also organizes, and helps teach, the Ornamental Fish Medicine elective for OSU veterinary students. Like much of his work, the CVM class is a multi-disciplinary collaboration between several organizations; instructors come from the OSU Department of Microbiology, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Oregon Sea Grant, and OCCC.
The Aquarium Science Building on the tiny OCCC campus in Newport, was purpose-built for teaching students about fish. In addition to lots of fish tanks, it houses water-quality testing equipment, a food preparation laboratory, a hospital ward, and a workshop for building aquarium exhibits. Thanks to Dr. Miller-Morgan’s tireless efforts to improve the ornamental fish industry, private aquarium businesses donated most of the state-of-the-art equipment in the building. “Sea Life Aquariums donated tens of thousands of dollars-worth of tank racks alone,” he says.
The one-week Ornamental Fish Medicine elective includes instruction in anatomy, necropsy, fish handling, water systems, life support, fish disease, and clinical treatment — many of them hands-on lab classes. Fourth-year student Johnathan Den Herder was particularly interested in tank system mechanics. “The most interesting part to me was learning the different components of an aquatic life support system and how to trace the path of water through a system,” he says. “Many fish health problems can be attributed, in whole or in part, to poor water quality, and knowing how to do water quality testing and troubleshoot system deficiencies is extremely important.”
DenHerder was recently selected for a three-year residency in Laboratory Animal Medicine, where he can put this knowledge to good use. “There are several aquatic species used as model organisms in biomedical research,” he says. “I will be able to use the knowledge I gained from this course to select appropriate housing systems for aquatic research animals, develop standard operating procedures that protect the health and welfare of those animals, and perform a general work up of fish medical cases. In addition, I will be able to serve as a resource for investigators performing research with aquatic species.”
Fourth-year students Nick Brown, Johnathan DenHerder, and Marla Blaney trace water through a tank system.