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An Aquarist’s Life during the Covid-19 lockdown

Life as an Aquarist During COVID-19 at the Hatfield Marine Science Center


Colleen Hill, Senior Aquarist

Aquatic Animal Health Program

Oregon Sea Grant

We are nearing the end of the 8th week of the COVID-19 “temporary” closing of the Visitor Center at Hatfield Marine Science Center.  Our husbandry staff has had to evolve and settle into the new normal of work life. It was just a short time ago, yet seems like months rather than weeks, in early March that a flurry of news reports and emails about COVID-19 started being the main topic of our everyday conversations. The COVID-19 related news ranged from educational and informational about the novel virus to recommendations about selfcare and protecting others to inquiries about how everybody else is responding to the news. 

In an email the second week of March to the Husbandry Team from our program lead Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan, we were advised to engage in some new protocols including: social distancing, increased hand washing and asked to adhere to a new increased disinfection protocol that instructs us to use isopropyl alcohol to wipe everything we touch before, during, and at the end of our shifts. We were also encouraged to explore remote working options for administrative duties if at all possible. We adjusted our regular group meetings to occur in a more opened up space to aide in social distancing and encouraged to take care of ourselves and stay home if one is feeling ill.  We immediately made several other changes. We asked our volunteers to stop coming in at this time for their safety and ours. We also canceled Spring term Internships and Practicum experiences. Our student aquarists were tasked with the extra duties to help in the absence of our husbandry volunteer help. 

Because of the ever-increasing concern about COVID-19 and the changes directed by the Governor and the administration at Oregon State University the husbandry team continues to adapt and change daily routines, animal care protocols, staffing schedules on the fly. We saw the biggest shift to our routines on March 14, 2020 due to the “Stay at Home Orders” from the governor of Oregon. These orders required nonessential employees to stay home. Consequently, only essential staff such as the Husbandry Team, as well as the Facilities Crew and a handful of lab managers, are the only staff members that are allowed to work onsite at Hatfield Marine Science Center. As much as we would love to bring our work home we cannot. There is a recent meme going around on social media of a marine biologist under strict stay at home orders with a shark in his bathtub that comes to mind but that unfortunately isn’t reality for us. The husbandry staff must continue to care for our many animals at the Visitor Center. 

Over the past weeks we have continued to make changes to our daily routines in order to save us time. These efforts have included consolidating some compatible animals in order to take some usually very high maintenance systems offline and changing our exhibit light timers to turn off earlier than normal to cut back on algae growth and therefore decrease the time we spend cleaning algae off acrylics. Since we are now the only ones on the floor throughout the day, we can leave our doors open, our many ladders and tools out, and our floor trenches uncovered. This has been a huge time saver and also cuts down on the potential spread of our germs because we do not have to touch these pieces of equipment as often. Our weelkly husbandry meetings are now conducted via Zoom to further reduce our contact.

By practicing time saving routines our aquarists have found more time to focus on other areas of our jobs that we usually put on the back burner. Plumbing projects have been started and completed in the education labs. The VC aquarist has completed many deep cleans of exhibits in the Visitor Center while two exhibits remain empty and drained until further notice. Routine animal health exams have been increased. We continue the Visitor Center giant Pacific octopus feeds at the regularly scheduled times in order to continue to engage with our online viewers on the OctoCam. We ‘ve also been able to focus more time on animal enrichment and have introduced our octopus to a former student’s octopus painting easel. The entire husbandry staff is also being engaged and enriched with continued education opportunities that have included various online workshops, online conferences and frequent postings on our Facebook page. 

On week four the CDC recommended of increased mask use. Unfortunately, we had donated all our masks to the local hospital. A call to our dedicated volunteers stuck at home resulted in a care package of DIY masks within 2 days of our request. We now wear masks at all times when someone else is in the same room or general area. We also moved many frequently used items such as daily records logs, dry animal food, and some cleaning tools out of our small food prep room to reduce congestion during our aquarist’s daily routines. This allowed us to distance ourselves from each other even more. In addition, assigned workspaces were moved and work schedules were shifted around to prevent close contact with each other. Now an aquarist can go through the whole workday without seeing another coworker unless we have a meeting online. “Nice to see you” has taken on a whole new meaning. There has been a definite shift from team work to working mainly alone which is tough for some of our more social aquarists. The facility is quiet. It’s a quiet that one only usually experiences early in the morning or at the very end of the day but this is the new normal for us. 

We all look forward to the day when our vibrant Visitor Center again filled with our coworkers, our dedicated volunteers, and visitors from near and far.  Until then we’ll be here taking care of the animals, cleaning the exhibits, feeding and engaging with the octopus and our other animal in a very quiet Visitor Center!

Keynotes from the 2014 Sharks International Conference

All four keynote addresses from the 2014 Sharks International conference in
Durban, South Africa are now online. Learn about sustainable shark
fisheries, using population genetics for shark conservation, stable isotope
analysis as a tool for feeding ecology, and why scientists and
conservationists need to focus on the less charismatic shark species.

Watch the Keynotes here.

A tragic loss for the ornamental fish industry.

Last Thursday many of us lost a great friend and the ornamental fish industry lost a tireless advocate. OFI Secretary-General, Alex Ploeg, his wife, Edith, and their son, Robert, were on the Malaysian Airlines flight 17 shot down over the Ukraine. A truly senseless tragedy.

Practical Fish Keeping just published a short article about this tragedy and the impact Alex has had on the industry during his tenure as OFI Secretary-General.

You may also go to the OFI website to read some personal messages from fiends in the global ornamental fish community.

Our thoughts and prayers  are with their two daughters , Mirjam and Sandra, who must now move ahead without their parents and brother.


Dr. Tim and the AAHP.

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With Alex and Edith (second and third from the right) in Malaysia in 2011.

At the home of Raymond Cheah (Greeny Aquaculture), checking emails after a day of fish collecting.

I have some fond memories of that trip with Alex and Edith.

Check out the New Aquarium Science Program Facebook Page!!

The Aquarium Science (AQS) Program now has a Facebook page. Check in frequently for an update on our students’ activities, current classes and summer workshops jointly sponsored by the Aquarium Science Program and the Aquatic Animal Health Program.

Chris Spaulding, The AQS program director, just posted some great picks of some of the current cohorts term projects.

Dr. Tim

The AAHP now has a Facebook page and Twitter feed!!!

Here’s the link to the new Aquatic Animal Health Program Facebook page.  I also have a Twitter feed. Our first use will be to post periodic updates and location indicators for the Rio Negro expedition which begins next Saturday. There will be a message and a link to the Delorme website. When you click on the link you will see a map with an arrow indicating our location. I’m using an inReach satellite communicator which only allows text messages and location information.

We’ll try to post some pictures when we get wireless access, probably only 1-2x during the course of the trip. One of my colleagues may be live blogging. If that works out, he will be using a sat phone and a data package, I’ll send the weblink.

In the future I’ll post bits of news, upcoming educational opportunities, and program activities.

Chat soon.


Come visit the Amazon with us



Looking for something different to do on January 25 – February 8th, 2014?
Here is an exciting opportunity to visit the natural habitats of many South American ornamental fish, and meet fishermen who collect these fish for the pet trade in a sustainable manner. The New England Aquarium would like to share with you the opportunity to travel with Project Piaba to the heart of the Amazon, Brazil’s Rio Negro. The expedition will be part of Project Piaba’s long term study on the Amazon fishery for the global home aquarium fish trade.


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Join Dr Tim Miller-Morgan (Aquatic Animal Health Program, Oregon Sea Grant, OSU College of Veterinary Medicine), Dr Scott Dowd (New England Aquarium) and Dr. Nick Saint-Erne (Pet Quality Veterinarian, PetSmart, Inc.) on the adventure of a lifetime. We will be examining the development & implementation of Best Handling Practices with the goal of maximizing animal welfare, minimizing stress and trauma at capture and handling by intermediaries and also pre-export conditioning for maximizing market value and competitiveness.
The overall objective of the trip will be the continuation of the assessment of trade barriers and strategic planning to preserve and enhance the ornamental fishery and it’s benefits to the environment and local people.

Also, we’ll be spending a few days visiting an ornamental fishing community that we won’t be able to reach on the live-aboard boat. We’ll get there by motor canoe, and stay with the community for a couple nights.

Here is a link with some details about the trip:

or Project Piaba’s facebook page:!/pages/Project-Piaba/332179033504804

One last link – a very nice article in Discover Magazine on the project:

Here is the cost breakdown for the trip:

Dates: January 25, – Feb. 8 2015

Costs: US $2,500 for the two weeks on the boat


accommodations in a double occupancy cabin. En suite, air conditioned

All meals, mineral water, coffee/tea, juices

all program activities, guides, etc

Local transportation in Brazil; airport pickup, & drop off

Not included:

airfare (rendezvous in Manaus, Brazil or Miami)

Guide/boat crew tips

Alcoholic and carbonated beverages – there is a well stocked bar on the
boat and a tab is settled up at the end of the trip

Continuing Education Credits will be available for participating veterinarians

For additional information, please contact:

Scott Dowd
New England Aquarium
Boston, MA
(781) 626-3138


Timothy J. Miller-Morgan, DVM, CertAqV
Aquatic Animal Health Program – Oregon Sea Grant,
College of Veterinary Medicine
Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University
2030 Marine Science Drive
Newport, OR 97365
(541) 867-0265 (office)
(541) 867-0320 (fax)
Skype Name: h20doc

The Aquatic Animal Health Program thanks the PNWMAS

Sid Stetson – Research Aquarist, Aquatic Animal Health Program


Aquarists of all levels of accomplishment tend to share a lot of the same attributes. They are intensely curious about aquatic animals, quick to lend a hand when a friend or colleague needs assistance, generous with their time, resources and expertise, passionate about providing the best possible care for their animals and keenly interested in fostering a sense of community with others in the hobby or profession. All these attributes and more were exemplified by many of the members of the Pacific Northwest Marine Aquarium Society when they heard that the aquarists at Hatfield Marine Science Center were planning to build a new coral reef exhibit in the Visitor’s Center.

When members of the HMSC animal husbandry team recently rekindled their association with the PNWMAS and requested donations of coral fragments to give the exhibit a running start, many PNWMAS members graciously donated a wide range of different coral species. Several members collected and held these frags until HMSC Senior Aquarist Colleen Newberg and Staff Aquarist Kristen Simmons could pick them up and transport them back to Hatfield.

Not only were PNWMAS members generous in the number of coral species they donated, they were generous in the quality of the animals as well. Many of the frags were of especially prized species that fetch a very respectable price at retailers. While it may be unseemly to quantify the value of animals in monetary terms, it would be much more so not to mention the value of this organization’s contributions to HMSC. PNWMAS members donated coral frags worth at least $3,000 and perhaps as much as $4,000 so that guests in the Visitor’s Center could enjoy the beauty and endless variety of forms of these animals.

There’s another and much more important facet to this organization’s generosity. By fragging out corals and sharing them with other aquarists, the members of PNWMAS and similar organizations reduce collection pressure on natural reefs all over the world. No other type of habitat supports as much biodiversity as a coral reef and the majority of aquarists responsibly seek out animals that have been sustainably cultured in order to preserve these important resources. By sharing corals and other types of animals they have cultured, aquarists like these PNWMAS members become stewards of the animals in coral reefs everywhere, as well as the reefs in their homes.

Hatfield Marine Science Center will be hosting the next PNWMAS meeting on Saturday, June 29. The members of the animal husbandry team are looking forward to meeting PNWMAS members and express their appreciation for the donations. They also look forward to returning members’ generosity when Hatfield’s coral propagation ramps up in the months ahead.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said, “Talent is always conscious of its own abundance, and does not object to sharing.” The aquarists of the Pacific Northwest Marine Aquarium Society are a talented bunch, indeed. Thanks, folks, from the animal husbandry team at Hatfield Marine Science Center.

What Fish!!! The 47th Annual ZNA show in Kobe, Japan

Spent the morning at the ZNA show at Merikan Park in Kobe. We saw some very impressive fish.

The grand champion was a very impressive Kohaku.

From the standpoint of biosecurity there have been a few changes over the years. THe tanks are separated by at least 3 feet to reduce the risk of cross contamination via splash. Each owner has his/her own tank for their fish but the fish are not judged in the tanks. They are laid out in their plastic transport bags on a blue tarp ( see picture above) and sorted by variety and size. These bags have a very high optical quality to allow for excellent viewing of the fish. They are judged here and then moved to their respective owners tanks after the outer surfaces of the bags are disinfected. This is an elegant combination of the old Japanese style show and the English style show. The judges are able to judge all the fish of the same size and variety together ( old Japanese approach)  while still maintaining separation of the fish by owner ( English style). This is an excellent approach that reduces the risks to the fish but allows for an optimal judging environment. Of course, all other biosecurity practices must be maintained especially related to equipment used for cleaning the tanks but all-in-all an elegant solution.

Brief Update from Japan

We are seven days into our trip. We’ve seen some beautiful Koi in Niigata and we’re now down south in Kobe. Tony has posted pictures of the beautiful koi on his blog, All Japan Koi Blog, enjoy. While in Kobe we will attend the ZNA Koi Show and visit the Ring of Fire Aquarium in Osaka and the Suma Aquarium in Kobe for behind the scenes tours and a chance to chat with the veterinarians at each facility.  Dr. Saint-Erne and I are quite excited about this aspect of the visit. Then we will be off to Hiroshima to visit Konishi Koi Farm to view some of Mr. Konishi’s beautiful fish.

Fish health is generally quite good. Many of these fish have just come out of the ponds so one would expect a few scrapes and bruises. Fish handling is excellent as it should be given the value of many of these fish. The fish are never caught up in the mesh net, merely guided into a waiting koi sock where it is gently transferred to a tote for examination. Biosecurity procedures tend to vary from farm-to-farm and can be problematic at times given the number of visitors to the farms during the Fall and Spring buying season. Ensuring adherence to essential protocols can be a never ending task.

Off to see more fish, until later……

OUr intrepid group (L to R): Striking the dramatic pose – Dr. NIck Saint-Erne, Bob Twigg, Tony Prew (our Guide), Me, Donna Twigg, and Judy Saint-Erne