Suffering Exposed in Aquariums in Great Britain
An Fishes Article from

FROM Freedom for Animals
September 2021

At a time where the oceans are under threat, fish that are stolen from the wild are forced into a life of misery, illness and death. It is time to rethink aquariums and consign them to the history books.

aquarium captives

In 2021, Freedom for Animals’ investigators visited 7 aquariums across England. They witnessed stereotypic behaviour, distressed animals and ill health. The examination of inspection reports and stocklists revealed more welfare concerns and concerning deaths.

Our investigator observed:

  • Stereotypic behaviours including spiralling, pacing, circling and surface breaking behaviour - 6 out of 7 aquariums had rays exhibiting this abnormal behaviour.
  • A giant Pacific octopus, Baxter, died on 8th June 2021, two days after he was filmed in his tank by the investigator. He was 3.5 years old just a few weeks after his death, he had been replaced.
  • A lionfish was seen floating sideways in an abnormal position, without moving much at all. There were 6 lionfish in the cylindrical tank, estimated very roughly to be 2m x 4m. This lionfish’s distress may have been caused by the fact that lionfish are generally solitary animals in the wild.
  • Two common stingrays had had their barbs removed.
  • A dead cichlid was observed lifeless at the bottom of a tank, thousands of miles away from their natural habitat.
  • A common octopus was witnessed launching themselves at the glass of their tank in a bid to escape

Inspection reports revealed:

  • Resident otters and primates had no access to outdoor space
  • Sea lions had been ‘disposed’ of, which an inspector noted had increased space for the seals
  • Several aquariums were carrying either no or few investigations into deaths via post mortems, were not recording findings sufficiently and were not taking action to reduce mortalities
  • Animals with physical health issues including a loggerhead turtle with an eye problem and white tipped shark with scoliosis, an electric eel with skin lesions and trigger/dog fish with goitre
  • Small enclosures where animals do not have freedom of movement including a corn snake who could not fully stretch out
  • A bat fish was found to be inappropriately on their own
  • Fish were often kept in overcrowded tanks which, inspectors noted, could cause a problem with access to food.
  • Very high mortality rates at one aquarium due to predation or jumping out of open top displays - the inspector commented this was unacceptable.
  • One aquarium did not appear to know what had happened to the Horsfield’s tortoise that had gone missing. The inspection instructed them to undergo a review and establish whether they had died, had been stolen or escaped.
  • One aquarium had a lack of enrichment for the animals, primates were being fed a poor diet and were kept in dirty accommodation covered in faeces

One aquarium unusually left notes on the stocklist regarding the animals there. Shockingly, 20% of species were logged as ‘may have died and decomposed out of sight or hiding.’ There were also 6 less shore crabs which were noted to have been eaten by other crabs of the same species due to aggression.

The aquarium commented on the Moon Jellyfish:

The discrepancy in numbers may be due to the Moon Jellyfish just dying and disintegrating in the water column.

This stocklist revealed the disturbing situation for animals held in that aquarium. Sentient beings that are not found in their tanks are thought to be perhaps dead or decomposed. Life is not precious in these prisons - marine animals are treated commodities and when they die, sadly, aquariums can simply restock their tanks.

This investigation yet again reveals the disturbing reality for marine animals in aquariums. Unable to exhibit natural behaviours, unnatural tanks inevitably lead to ill health. At a time where the oceans are under threat, fish that are stolen from the wild are forced into a life of misery, illness and death. It is time to rethink aquariums and consign them to the history books. 

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